Greetings, friends. So, you may have noticed that a lot of people are not so pleased with J.K. Rowling as of late, and if you haven’t delved too deeply into the issue, you may be wondering why emotions are running so high. I thought I would offer some clarity on this matter, as it might be helpful for someone innocently wondering what JK possibly could’ve said to alienate and anger so many people.
So, with that said, let’s get to it.
First off, what did JKR actually say? Here’s one of the first tweets in the controversy:
On the surface, this seems rather innocent. Women menstruate, so why not use the term “women” instead of “people who menstruate”?
Well, there are several reasons, but here are the main ones:
1. There are many women who do not menstruate, for example those who have gone through menopause, those who are on birth control, or those who, for medical or other reasons, simply don’t have periods. Saying that “people who menstruate” = “women” excludes these people, and implies that they are not women simply because they don’t have periods.
2. This also excludes trans women and men, who are really at the heart of this whole debate. Trans women do not menstruate, but they are women. Trans men sometimes do menstruate (if they aren’t on testosterone or some other period-stopping medication), but they are not women.
Is it simpler to say “women”? Yes. Is it accurate and inclusive? No.
Anyway, back to JK’s tweets:
Again, this sounds perfectly reasonable until you remember that no one is suggesting that sex isn’t real — they’re only saying that the definition of “woman” is a bit broader than “people who menstruate.”
Anyway, the discussion around JK’s tweets ended up getting very heated, and unfortunately a lot of people expressed their thoughts in a less than polite way, which led to JKR feeling very much attacked. And when a person is feeling attacked, they generally don’t say, “Oh, well, everyone is yelling at me, so I must be in the wrong.” Instead, they’re far more likely to dig their heels in all the deeper and commit even more strongly to their original position.
So, all of this culminated in JK penning a lengthy essay explaining her views, and this is where it really gets interesting. I’ll link to the essay here in case you want to read it yourself, but I’ll be looking at some particular points of interest here in this entry.
“Gender critical feminists” and their views
JK talks about a great many things in her essay, including her support of two “gender critical feminists” (known in the wider world as “trans-exclusionary feminists”) who are, unfortunately, quite well-known for their dislike and invalidation of the transgender community.
After reading JKR’s essay, I did quite a lot of reading on what exactly it is that “gender critical feminists” believe, and once you’ve understood their views, it becomes pretty clear that JKR’s own beliefs very much align with theirs.
For example, a common idea in the gender critical feminist community is the concept that transgender men (i.e., those assigned female at birth who then realize they identify as male) are actually women who wish to escape from the oppression and discrimination of the female lot and live their lives as men. Gender critical feminists also hold fast to the idea that transgender women (i.e., those assigned male at birth who later realize they identify as female) are either getting some perverse sexual kick from dressing “like women,” or that their goal in passing as women is to enter women’s spaces and sexually assault them.
To anyone who has ever known a trans person, it’s clear that these views are not only dead wrong, but also immensely harmful to the trans community, a group that already suffers an immense amount of hatred, discrimination, and violence.
How do we know that JKR shares these views? Some excerpts from her essay:
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.
Here we find the idea that being a transgender man = escaping womanhood, and the fact that JKR says that she herself might have wanted to transition as a teen (when we know that she identifies as a cisgender [non-transgender] woman) shows us that she doesn’t actually understand what it means to be transgender, or what the actual motivations are for those who choose to transition.
But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume.
Here we have the idea of men dressing up to be women, wearing the identity of “woman” as a costume for entertainment, perversity, or more nefarious reasons.
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.
Again, sounds quite reasonable. But let’s consider that what is being done to “erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class” is simply trans women asking to be included within the definition of “woman.” Allowing a trans woman to call herself a woman does not change the fact that JK Rowling and many others are also women – unless, of course, you don’t believe that trans women are women. If you believe that trans women are actually men with nefarious intentions, then adding them to your group may perhaps seem to “erode” the identity of the group, I suppose.
JKR wants to say that she supports and empathizes with the trans community while simultaneously implying that trans women are not “woman enough” to be included in the definition of “woman,” and therein lies the issue.
Detransitioning and teens
JK also offers some statistics and discussion about detransitioning (i.e., transitioning from male to female or female to male and then transitioning back afterwards):
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.
The implication here is that transitioning leads to regret, and she goes on to provide some questionable statistics regarding those who detransition. (I should also mention that one of the studies she quotes was actually based on a questionnaire submitted to parents of trans teens — not the teens themselves — on a gender critical feminist forum.)
Here are some statistics from a survey done of nearly 28,000 trans people:
In a 2015 survey of nearly 28,000 people conducted by the U.S.-based National Center for Transgender Equality, only 8 percent of respondents reported detransitioning, and 62 percent of those people said they only detransitioned temporarily. The most common reason for detransitioning, according to the survey, was pressure from a parent, while only 0.4 percent of respondents said they detransitioned after realizing transitioning wasn’t right for them.NBC News
So, based on this study of 28,000 actual transgender people, only 0.4 percent detransitioned after realizing that they were not, in fact, transgender. Reading JKR’s essay, however, you get the impression that the majority of transitioners regret it afterwards.
It’s also worth noting that JKR ties this idea together with the subject of teens transitioning, and states that “60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria.”
First of all, I do wonder what “60-90%” is even meant to mean, as that’s a very wide gap. Second, it’s important to note what actually happens when a teen identifies as transgender.
The image JKR is giving us is that a teen, due to peer pressure, delusion, or the wish to escape oppression, has said, “I’m trans,” and is then immediately given surgery to remove female body parts + a hysterectomy that forever curses this deluded teen to a childless existence. This sounds grim indeed.
What will actually happen is counseling and, if anything, the use of puberty blockers to delay the onset of puberty and thus allow the teen a longer period of time to decide if this is how they really feel or not.
Let’s look at two hypothetical teens to see why this is so important.
Teen 1 has feelings of gender dysphoria and feels he identifies as male rather than his biological sex of female. He goes through counseling and is put on puberty blockers.
Teen 2 has feelings of gender dysphoria and feels she identifies as female rather than her biological sex of male. Because her parents believe she is too young to make this decision, she is not put on puberty blockers and goes through male puberty.
Teen 1 later realizes that while the feelings of gender dysphoria were real, she no longer identifies as trans and wants to live her life as a woman. She is taken off the puberty blockers, goes through female puberty, and lives her life as a woman.
Teen 2 realizes upon adulthood that she genuinely is transgender and wishes to live as a woman, but she has already gone through male puberty, so despite hormone replacement therapy, she will always have some typically “male” characteristics, which add to her feelings of gender dysphoria.
Delaying puberty for a time while a gender dysphoric teen sorts out their feelings causes no lasting harm to the teen in question (and, arguably, no harm at all). Allowing puberty to occur increases feelings of dysphoria, adds to the high suicide rates in the trans community, and in general just makes it so much harder for a trans person to live their life. As such, blocking teens from this kind of treatment because they’re “too young to know for sure” is actually extremely harmful, regardless of whether you believe the questionable statistics regarding the rate at which teens grow out of their dysphoria.
Jumping back to adults, JK has this to say about bathrooms:
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.
This is a pretty gross over-simplification of the truth, and here is what’s wrong with JKR’s logic here.
According to the UK government’s website on the topic, in order to receive a gender confirmation certificate in the UK, you must first be diagnosed with gender dysphoria and have “lived in your acquired gender for at least 2 years.”
Now, imagine this. A man wishes to enter a women’s bathroom or changing room to assault a woman. Instead of waiting outside the bathroom or changing room until he can slip in unnoticed and attack, he makes a doctor’s appointment, announces he is gender dysphoric, goes through counseling and invents a convoluted backstory to back up his claims, lives as a woman for two years, and then is finally granted a certificate that allows him to walk through that unguarded, unlocked women’s bathroom door and carry out the assault masterminded two years earlier.
Does this sound particularly likely?
Now, consider this situation. A transgender woman is out shopping and needs to use the bathroom. She is wearing makeup, a gorgeous dress, and her favorite heels. What is going to happen to her if she walks into the men’s bathroom? Is it going to be safe for her to enter into that men’s space as a trans woman?
Bathroom bills are not, as JK says, “throw[ing] open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman.” They are protecting the safety of trans people who just want to be able to walk into a bathroom without fearing for their lives.
Anyway, the last point I’d like to make is this: I don’t think JKR is a monster. I don’t think she’s saying these things to purposely make life more difficult for trans people. But I do think that she doesn’t understand trans people, and doesn’t particularly want to. For all her talk of research, I don’t think she wants to be educated so much as to find ideas that back up what she already believes.
Which of course is something we all do, to a certain degree. But when the trans community is saying again and again, “Hey, what you’re saying is actually really harmful to us,” it’s probably a good idea to listen to them.