Trans Rights - Unpicking JK Rowlings Blog

There is a lot here. So to make it simpler, anything I have quoted from J.K. Rowling’s blog is in purple. Anything quoted from elsewhere is light green and should have a link (in orange)if you want to look into it further. I’ve also used headings, so you can dip in and out.

For many people who read J.K. Rowling’s blog, I imagine there were some bits you thought made sense and some bits that made you uncomfortable. The uncomfortable bits should not be ignored.  Many of the seemingly sensible points she makes are based on an inaccurate picture and if you didn’t know better, you would take her word for it. My aim here is to show how and why you shouldn’t.

Presenting a picture of truth

One example is the idea that it is or will become easy for people to have surgery or hormone treatment to change their gender identity. It is not easy. No one walks in and just gets a sex change. It is a lengthy, often difficult process and it is absolutely right that there needs to be a high level of professional diligence surrounding these major decisions.

What IS being proposed to make easier, is the process of getting your gender changed and recognised by law. This is not the same thing as making it easier to have surgery or hormone treatment.

Another misconception that Rowling presents as reality is this idea of loss of single spaces. No one has ever asked me for a certificate of my gender for me to enter a changing room or toilet – I would be mortified if they did. Currently, people who are trans have access to the space that matches the gender they identify as – no certificate is needed. This is already the case and anything else would be an erosion of trans rights, hence we have trans activists fighting to protect their rights. I feel like fighting to protect rights is something Rowling should get…

Maya and Magdelen

Rowling also mentions Maya Forstater and Magdelen Burns. I touch on them both because Rowling presents a picture that I don’t think is accurate. Here is a little more info for you.

The Maya Forstater case is not just about biological sex, but about whether you should be allowed to use the incorrect pronoun for someone. Now I am not perfect, and I frequently slip up with pronouns. But they are just that – slip ups for which I apologise/correct myself. In Maya’s case, her belief that there are only two sexes and these cannot be changed means that she violates the dignity of others, specifically, those who have a Gender Recognition Certificate and are legally recognised as woman or man. Maya refuses to acknowledge this legal status. This was the actual ruling, which in essence is saying that Maya’s right to refer to people by the sex SHE deems to be correct is not protected under the equalities act. I think this Judge sounds awesome.

“I conclude from … the totality of the evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

This is another great article which explains what the ruling was really about and why Maya’s case wasn’t successful:

J.K. also defended her connection with Magdelen Burns in her blog, describing her as follows: “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.”

Just to be clear – I don’t think anyone should be called a bigot for who they choose to date or not date. That’s an unfair characterisation of those who support trans rights.

A tribute to Magdelen after her death described her work:

“In particular she devoted much of her energy in her last few years to exposing the attempts of super-entitled and misogynistic heterosexual males to claim to be women – and even lesbians – and try to invade women-only, including lesbian-only, spaces.”

It is unfair and offensive to describe trans women as super entitled misogynists invading women only spaces. And I hope that I don’t have to explain that to anyone, but if you’re doubting the inappropriateness of this, then please do get in touch – I’m happy to chat more.

In her blog, Rowling does acknowledge that people who are trans suffer terrible discrimination and violence – often at the hands of men - but continues to perpetuate this view that we should fear the threat of men who decide to put a dress and lipstick one day and invade women’s spaces rather than support a group of marginalised and discriminated against women.

Creating a narrative: Victim and Abuser

Throughout the blog, Rowling presents herself as a victim. A victim as someone who accidentally clicked ‘like’, who followed someone only for research and most outstandingly, that she only returned to Twitter to promote her new book – she wasn’t seeking trouble. It frustrates me that she accepts no responsibility for the fact that she chose (despite only being there for her book) to tweet about sex, gender, trans activists and crucially to object to what she views as degrading language of ‘people who menstruate’. She did that - it wasn’t an accident. And she did it knowing that she has an absolutely massive platform which would open up a space for everyone else who wanted to share their similar views as well as those who oppose those views, such as myself.

And like all good narratives, J.K. Rowling creates the abusers. The trans activists.

Well, I’m a trans activist, so let me be very clear: I am not shutting down anyone’s debate. I am not calling her a cunt or a bitch. I am not sending death threats; I am objecting to and disagreeing with her words. I am upset by her words. I will continue to challenge those words, but I would urge both sides not to let debate around trans rights and women’s rights get swallowed by those people slinging mud on both sides.

We do have a problem today with our behaviour on social media, particularly around public figures and especially in politics and this is a separate issue. I have been told on twitter that I should be sacked as a teacher. I’ve been insulted and threated. In the general election campaign, people threatened to shoot me. So I know what it is like and it has to stop. I implore anyone who is sinking to these depths to stop because you are damaging good causes.

But regardless of that, J.K. Rowling (or Dominic Cummings for that matter) cannot reduce every legitimate voice to that of the vocal minority who are behaving in an abusive way.

Rowling’s 5 reasons for speaking up

  1. Her first point is very woolly so it’s hard to rebut. She feels it will affect her charities but doesn’t specify how. She repeats this fear of erosion of the legal definition of sex, but this is only an issue if you are expecting a flood of men to decide to falsely transition, which to me, is making policy based on fear (a fear she is feeding), not inclusion. She also expresses a concern that Multiple Sclerosis behaves differently in men and women. I’m pretty sure that we would all support medical professionals taking a full case history into account when treating any patient.
  2. She is a teacher (so am I! Snap!) and is concerned (again, she doesn’t say how) about the impact of trans rights on education and safeguarding. No specifics here, just feeding the fear. Trans rights will mean your child isn’t ‘safe’.
  3. She believes in Freedom of Speech. Me too, and I actually agree that we cannot shut down debate and I stand by my earlier statement that the abuse needs to stop. None of this makes her right or inoffensive, and I would love it if she started to take responsibility for her tweets and the influence and power that SHE has because of her status.
  4. Undoubtedly, there will be those who regret surgery, as with many other types of surgery. But this number is so small and shouldn’t detract from the far greater number of people it supports. Here is an example of how these views circulate. The Daily Mail shares an article with the headline ‘Hundreds of transgender youths who had gender reassignment wish they hadn’t and want to transition back, according to trans rights champion’. Now, the headline is often the only part read, and then will get shared without people actually reading the article which goes on to state:

 “Data is not currently collected showing how many transgender people come to regret their decision but the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust - which offers gender identity services for children as young as three - says it is 'rarely seen'.      

In a statement, a trust spokesperson said: 'Decisions about physical interventions made in our care are arrived at after a thorough exploration process. 

'While some of our patients may decide not to pursue physical treatment or drop out of treatment, the experience of regret described here is rarely seen.'

Some key points here.  The term ‘gender identity services’ is clearly designed to create a fear that children as young as three are being groomed for hormone treatment/surgery. Protection of children is a strong motivator for anti-trans activists so let’s get some specifics. Hormone treatment can only happen post 16 and surgery post 18. This isn’t changing unless you count MP Lizz Truss’ recent comments which suggest she might take away the rights of 16 and 17 year olds to access hormone therapy. This would be another erosion of trans rights, and yet another reason we have trans rights activists.

Secondly, these services have nothing to gain from pushing people into such major decisions. All trans support groups and medical services are there to support and help individuals and that includes them changing their minds and stopping. That is part of the support too. And yes, we should always strive to make our service the best they possibly can be to keep the number of people who regret surgery as low as possible, and yes we should provide support for those who want to reverse their transition. None of that is contradicted by reforming the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) or by trans activists and allies.

“Nobody, the activists insisted, could ever be persuaded into being trans.”

The idea is presented by Rowling that if we allow transgender people to be present, respected and have rights, that more people will ‘turn’ trans who otherwise wouldn’t be. This sounds a lot like the idea that homosexuality can be caught. I found it quite astonishing that Rowling chose to quote a piece of research based on parents chatting online:

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: 

‘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.’

Entire friend groups?!?! Social contagion??! (It’s catching remember).

Did I mention I’m a teacher? I have literally never seen this. We do notice when there is someone in school who identifies as having a different gender to their biological sex and we make sure we are as supportive as possible. I am trying to think of a context in which this might be true. I can imagine a group of friends deciding to do away with gendered pronouns and taking the they/them route. All power to them! This is not the same as groups of children being persuaded by trans activists to get surgery and to suggest so is yet more fearmongering.

Watch out for tricks like this:

“Nobody, the activists insisted, could ever be persuaded into being trans.”

Who are “the activists”? Am I one? I’m sure you could persuade someone incorrectly into being trans but I am also pretty sure that no one is trying to. None of the charities or medical institutions or inclusive TV shows are trying to persuade anyone to become trans, but they are trying to make them feel accepted. Rowling casually puts words into the mouths of millions of people who support trans rights and reforming the GRA, to provide something and someone for anti-trans campaigners to rally against.

Rowling also calls into question the need for people to change their gender due to risk of suicide, referring to the lack of data ☹ I would really rather we didn’t need data on this one. It implies people are making up suicidal thoughts or that people should have to lose their lives first before we acknowledge the need for support. Here is some data for you.

“More than one in four (27 per cent) trans young people have attempted to commit suicide and nine in ten (89 per cent) have thought about it. 72 per cent have self-harmed at least once. (Youth Chances 2014, sample size = 956)”

Surgery or no surgery?

In this section of her blog, Rowling really slips up, confusing once again surgery and hormone treatment with getting a Gender Recognition Certificate.

In reference to her friend who is a trans woman:

“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.”

We still have a rigorous process of evaluation. We are not trying to remove a robust system. This is separate from Gender Recognition Certificates. I’m sometimes confused as to whether Rowling is more upset by the idea of people getting surgery or not getting surgery…

  • Rowling opens-up about her own experiences of domestic violence and abuse from men. This is awful and she is certainly not alone in having suffered in this way. But as she acknowledges, in this scenario, trans women have so much more in common with Rowling than the people who abused her. She also has no alternative suggestions on how trans women can be made to feel safe, given that they suffer very similar abuse… nothing. So it seems that the safety of cis women is more important than the safety of trans women.

Rowling also uses her past as a means of making her an authority on the matter. She implies, that if you are a trans activists, if your views are different to hers, if you support reforming the GRA then it is only because you are:

“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.”

This is an astonishing claim. It came towards the end of the article and it stayed with me. Rowling chose to open up about her past, but she now puts others in the position where if they want to have their views validated, they must also open up about theirs.

Well done for making it this far!

It saddens me that Rowling can’t see the relevance of her own words to the trans community:

“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.””

She talks here of her own liberation. The liberation of her views and the protection of women’s rights. But it could so easily be applied to trans rights.

If I could end with a few points to remember it would be this:

  • Don’t be sucked into the cycle of abuse online. Rise above it. Fight with reason.
  • Don’t give in to fear and let fear drive your views on policy.
  • Have a look at the Gender Recognition Act proposed changes and what they actually are.
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