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J.K. Rowling Doubles Down on Transphobia

J.K. Rowling. Photo: Greg Allen/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

J.K. Rowling, as you may have heard, has some Opinions about trans identity, some of which she aired on Twitter last weekend. Sharing an article on period poverty, the author took aim at the phrase “people who menstruate.” As became clear from her subsequent explanation, Rowling believes that womanhood somehow hangs on this biological function, logic that excludes trans women and non-binary people. Many read her comments as transphobic, and with criticism growing, Rowling published a 3,690-word response on Wednesday. In it, she both broadly declares her support for trans people, while doubling down on her original suggestion that trans women do not actually qualify as women.

Rowling names five core reasons for her position, but the two that animate the essay are a suspicion that young people who decide to transition (particularly adolescent girls heavily influenced by their peers, an idea that has been thoroughly debunked) often “grow out of their dysphoria” and come to regret their decisions; and her fear, as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic abuse, that opening the doors of a women’s restroom to “any man who believes or feels he’s a woman” means “open[ing] the door to any and all men who wish to come inside,” jeopardizing female safety.

Naturally, online criticism of Rowling’s position has not cooled since she published her rebuttal. One reader summed it up as a “TERF bingo card,” and indeed the term TERF — which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist and in its current usage, often describes a liberal woman whose brand of feminism excludes transgender women from its push for equal rights — is one that Rowling has heard many times in recent days.

Jen Richards, a transgender writer, actress, and producer, summarized Rowling’s argument as “garden variety anti-trans bigotry” that distracted from the Black Lives Matter movement “at the very moment” it “has taken the global center stage.”

Others have taken issue with Rowling’s disclosure of past trauma as a justification for a fear of trans women. “Like JK Rowling, I am also a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault, both of which occurred in my teens,” one user wrote. “These awful experiences don’t justify bigoted and trans-exclusionary views and I find it pretty disgusting that she’s using them as a shield to deflect criticism.”

In a lengthy thread that provides a point-by-point fact-check of Rowling’s essay, Andrew James Carter, co-founder of a user-moderated social network called Podium, underscores that “there are no end of checks required before trans people receive [gender affirmation] surgery,” if they decide to do so. And indeed, the process is long and very costly; it’s not something that can be undertaken on a whim, particularly not by the minors Rowling seems so concerned about. As for restroom-based perils, Carter notes, “The danger to women (trans and cis) comes from cis men. By campaigning for trans women to be excluded from women’s spaces, transphobes are actively calling for trans women to be subjected to the very danger from which they (wrongly) claim to be protecting themselves.”

And indeed, the available numbers suggest that very few people (0.4 percent of 27,715 respondents, in one U.S. survey) detransition because of a belated change of heart, and there simply is no evidence to suggest that trans women are attacking people in bathrooms. On the contrary, allowing people to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity appears to promote safety and wellbeing. Because, as Rowling seems almost to acknowledge, we are not lacking for examples of cis men exercising fatal violence against transgender women.

There is, of course, a lot more in the essay, which you can read in full here, if you feel so inclined.

J.K. Rowling Doubles Down on Transphobia