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Article
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Transgender rights

Being a caretaker: a response to JK Rowling

To be a children’s author is to be a caretaker. You have a duty to your readers. They should be safe with you. JK Rowling has published an anti-trans manifesto on her website, detailing the reasons why she is ‘concerned’ about the ‘new trans activism’. To see a children’s author with her status disguise transphobic hatred as concern is appalling.

A strange thought is brought up in Rowling’s manifesto: if she had been born thirty years later, she ponders, would she have become a trans man? She arrives at this train of thought because of the growing number of trans children, and concludes that this must be because they’re being peer-pressured into transitioning. Rowling seems reluctant to consider the alternative explanation: trans people have always existed, there are more of us than anyone ever realised, the internet has given young people access to resources for more self-determination and visibility than ever before, and trans activists have been bravely fighting for recognition for decades – despite the best efforts of people like her.

Rowling continually insists in her manifesto that she supports trans people, that she loves us, and that she thinks we are deserving of protection. I guess it is possible that she has convinced herself that she truly believes this. However I think it’s more likely that she is lying. 

‘Women must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves,’ she writes. At the heart of this argument is the implication that trans women are not women. The following paragraph, which reads ‘‘Woman’ is not an idea in a man’s head’, is so heavily transphobic and so clearly contrary to any notion of goodwill that I can only think it is a deliberate attempt to disorient the reader.

Rowling seeks to reinforce her views with discussion of her history of abuse at the hands of men. In fact, just about everything in her manifesto seems to circle back to this, as if trans women were not themselves more likely to be victims of violence than cisgender women. Many of us have traumatic pasts. Believe me, trans people know all about them. But they are not an excuse for bigotry, and the only purpose of her life story here is emotional manipulation. It is a sad irony that Rowling chooses to centre herself in this discussion.

Transphobic logic often manifests as a fear of male-on-female violence and the fear of men in women-only spaces. This ‘predator in the locker room’ logic is identical to that used against gay men in the past. It does not result in any advocacy for women, or rehabilitation or support for violent men, or anything at all to address violence from anyone. It is a baseless fear that only serves to hurt trans people who face a real, well-substantiated one every time they step into a bathroom.

The growing number of out nonbinary people in recent years is another area of ‘concern’ for transphobes. A common argument against our validity is that there are only two sexes and two genders, and that anything else is ‘made up’.

Firstly, civilisations around the world have recognised multiple gender identities for centuries. Colonialism tried to steamroll over this knowledge in much of the world, entrenching gender binarist logic in racism and assimilation. The bodies of the Other have always been regulated to endorse social and cultural mores. We must remember that there was a time when phrenology told us that you could learn about someone’s personality and intelligence from the shape of their skull with ‘scientific’ precision. The extensive social significance we attach to differing genitals and biological characteristics is just as ‘made up’ and is constantly reified by the goals of a patriarchal society. What it comes down to is this: when people tell you about their lived experiences of their own gender, they’re telling the truth.

Rowling cites worry that people may want to ‘de-transition.’ This is an incredibly rare occurrence and a straw-man argument that people use to oppose medical transition and trans healthcare. The idea that there is some modern peer pressure to transition is laughable in the face of the institutional, society-wide pressure to not transition that has perpetuated for generations. It is hard to be out as trans in this world and sometimes it feels easier to give up – largely because of people like Rowling.

Rowling keeps talking about being ‘targeted’, depicting herself as a victim of ‘trans activists’, and again, tying this all back to misogyny and her history of abuse. Well, sometimes there is a reason people are shouting at you. It’s wrong to expect cool heads when you are talking to people who are directly affected by things that are only abstract concepts to you – people who have suffered lifetimes of pain you are so keen to ignore in centring yours. Sometimes it’s not misogyny, or men, or oppression. Sometimes it’s you.

Sometimes, too, there is so much to be read in the silences. Despite her supposed commitment to equality, Rowling has not said a word about Black Lives Matter. Bla(c)k trans people in particular are at high risks of violence, and this is a time when a person like Rowling – a rich white person, with a global platform, who claims to care about trans people as much as she does – could really make a difference.

Trans youth are some of the most vulnerable. They have a high depression and suicide rate: a staggering 48.5 per cent of trans people aged 14-25 have attempted suicide, and 79.7 per cent of trans people aged 14-25 have self-harmed.  Trans people over 18 are up to eleven times more likely to attempt suicide than their cis peers. Trans people over 18 are eighteen times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Yet Rowling mocks the idea that her views are causing harm. They are. Transphobia harms trans children. Transphobia harms all children. It harms every single child. By building rigid gender binaries and expectations, we cannot celebrate any child for who they are. How can we?

If you had told teenage me that I would one day be writing this, I would never have believed you. I grew up reading Rowling’s books, and they are a large part of why I write mine for trans and gender diverse children and teenagers. I consider this an honour. I’m proud of my work, and whenever I meet my audience at events, they make me proud too. They are tired of transphobia, racism, misogyny and ableism. They want and deserve better.

Countless times I have met young trans people who thank me for writing the trans characters that I do. I recognise what’s in their eyes: it is relief. It is relief that there is space for them in the world. It is the same relief I feel when I meet them: the knowledge that we’re not alone, and despite transphobic rhetoric, we’re here and we will continue to be here.

Growing up, I didn’t have access to the work of any trans authors. If I had, perhaps I would have realised I was trans sooner. Perhaps I would have grown up with less internalised transphobia. By writing these books, I feel like I’m giving hope to young readers, but also myself.

To perpetuate transphobia is to rob these young people of their rights, it is to add to the statistics of self-harming trans people, it is to deny them healthcare, it is to deny them their right to feel safe simply existing. My body of work is me beginning to heal myself, and to add to the communal healing of the damage done by people like JK Rowling.

 

Alison Evans has donated their payment for this article to Black Rainbow, an advocacy platform for LGBTI Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is 100% Indigenous owned and operated. If you are cisgender and have learnt something from this article, please consider donating.

Image: A detail from the cover of Ida.

 

EDIT: This piece claimed that JK Rowling has not spoken on the Black Lives Matter movement. This was an error, as she posted one tweet on Jun 1, 2020. 

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Comments

  1. Brilliant response that shouldn’t need to be said, but thank you for it! I’ll be donating.

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