Rowling Writes Trans Views Tell All Post; Fandom Divides ‘Team Jo,’ ‘Team Trans’

On 6 June, J. K. Rowling tweeted nine separate times on the issue of transgender people and their rights. I think the most important thread is this one:

Though only a reiteration of her #IStandWithMaya Tweet Heard Round the World from last December, one with special emphasis in each part of the thread that the accusation that she hates transgender people is untrue and unfair, the world that believes with former Vice President Joe Biden that transgender rights “are the civil rights issue of our time” have doxxed her thoroughly. Celebrities as closely tied with her as Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, Eddie Redmayne, and Evanna Lynch have all gone public to affirm that “transgender women are women.” [To my knowledge, Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger have not yet checked in on this issue.]

On 10 June Rowling responded with an essay which was posted on her website, ‘J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues,’ and she has pinned a link to this post to the top of her twitter page (she has been silent on twitter since 6 June). In this essay she reviews the history of her involvement with the transgender issue, the story of her several fat-finger mistakes at the keyboard that led to her being identified as “transphobic” by trans activists online, and of her decision to return to twitter in December after a long hiatus to support Maya Foraster. She details, too, the fallout thereafter, not only the verbal abuse and threats she endured and expected, but also the unanticipated “avalanche of emails and letters” “the overwhelming majority of which were positive, grateful and supportive.” These notes, she writes,

came from a cross-section of kind, empathetic and intelligent people, some of them working in fields dealing with gender dysphoria and trans people, who’re all deeply concerned about the way a socio-political concept is influencing politics, medical practice and safeguarding. They’re worried about the dangers to young people, gay people and about the erosion of women’s and girl’s rights. Above all, they’re worried about a climate of fear that serves nobody – least of all trans youth – well.

Rowling then explains that she had left twitter before and after the #IStandWithMaya tweet “because I knew it was doing nothing good for my mental health” and that she “only returned because I wanted to share a free children’s book during the pandemic.” The trans activists, however, only wanted the issue to be about Rowling being a TERF, which term Rowling defines and describes in her signature ascerbic style:

If you didn’t already know – and why should you? – ‘TERF’ is an acronym coined by trans activists, which stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. In practice, a huge and diverse cross-section of women are currently being called TERFs and the vast majority have never been radical feminists. Examples of so-called TERFs range from the mother of a gay child who was afraid their child wanted to transition to escape homophobic bullying, to a hitherto totally unfeminist older lady who’s vowed never to visit Marks & Spencer again because they’re allowing any man who says they identify as a woman into the women’s changing rooms. Ironically, radical feminists aren’t even trans-exclusionary – they include trans men in their feminism, because they were born women.

But accusations of TERFery have been sufficient to intimidate many people, institutions and organisations I once admired, who’re cowering before the tactics of the playground. ‘They’ll call us transphobic!’ ‘They’ll say I hate trans people!’ What next, they’ll say you’ve got fleas? Speaking as a biological woman, a lot of people in positions of power really need to grow a pair (which is doubtless literally possible, according to the kind of people who argue that clownfish prove humans aren’t a dimorphic species).

And then Rowling answers the questions any sane person would be asking given the flood of abuse and threats to her life as a writer and screenwriter, not to mention loss of funds to her philanthropic causes such an outcasting surely means, namely, “So why am I doing this? Why speak up? Why not quietly do my research and keep my head down?” She offers “five reasons for [my] being worried about the new trans activism, and deciding I need to speak up.” This is the substance of her post for which the opening was only a throat-clearing preface.

The five reasons in brief — and if you are a Rowling reader you really should read and re-read the post in its entirety — are:

(1) “the new trans activism is having (or is likely to have, if all its demands are met) a significant impact on many of the [charitable] causes I support, because it’s pushing to erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender,”

(2) “I have deep concerns about the effect the trans rights movement is having on both [the education and safe-guarding of children],”

(3) “as a much-banned author, I’m interested in freedom of speech and have publicly defended it, even unto Donald Trump,”

(4) “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,” and

(5) because “endlessly unpleasant as its constant targeting of me has been, 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.”

The last two of the five reasons are the most involved and nuanced arguments of the set and make up more than half of the essay. Each is profoundly personal. If you have only read the online articles summarizing this remarkable defense of her position on women’s and transgender rights, you may only be aware of the fifth point. In it she publicly reveals what we have written about here for years, namely, that she is the survivor of physical and mental abuse by her first husband and the issue of violence against women is her defining topical concern as a writer.

If this is news to you or you were surprised by Rowling’s laying bare her experiences of violence by men against women in this essay, please visit the links to discussions of this topic via the following links:

  • As Patrick McCauley first discussed in his Into the Pensieve, the backdrop stories of Harry Potter, Thomas Riddle, Jr., Severus Snape, and Albus Dumbledore are all in essence the nightmare stories of their mothers and younger sister. 
  • Casual Vacancy reads like something of Rowling’s relationship autobiography and the various forms men’s violence against women can take.
  • The two lead characters in the Cormoran Strike series have as the primary formative experiences of their lives, respectively, the presumed murder of Cormoran’s mother and Robin’s having been raped as a young co-ed, an experience that leads to her disastrous and abusive marriage. Career of Evil is borderline pornographic in its description and depiction of violence against women and Lethal White, with it’s revelations of Robin’s experiences and PTSD, was assumed here to be borderline memoir.

Having noted that Rowling has been writing about this issue for years, her essay still comes as a startlingly personal statement of her experiences and the centrality of this issue in her life. 

I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy, but out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces.

I managed to escape my first violent marriage with some difficulty, but I’m now married to a truly good and principled man, safe and secure in ways I never in a million years expected to be. However, the scars left by violence and sexual assault don’t disappear, no matter how loved you are, and no matter how much money you’ve made. My perennial jumpiness is a family joke – and even I know it’s funny – but I pray my daughters never have the same reasons I do for hating sudden loud noises, or finding people behind me when I haven’t heard them approaching.

If you could come inside my head and understand what I feel when I read about a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man, you’d find solidarity and kinship. I have a visceral sense of the terror in which those trans women will have spent their last seconds on earth, because I too have known moments of blind fear when I realised that the only thing keeping me alive was the shaky self-restraint of my attacker.

Hence Rowling’s posts on twitter on 6 June and the inevitable blowback from trans activists. As she explains:

On Saturday morning, I read that the Scottish government is proceeding with its controversial gender recognition plans, which will in effect mean that all a man needs to ‘become a woman’ is to say he’s one. To use a very contemporary word, I was ‘triggered’. Ground down by the relentless attacks from trans activists on social media, when I was only there to give children feedback about pictures they’d drawn for my book under lockdown, I spent much of Saturday in a very dark place inside my head, as memories of a serious sexual assault I suffered in my twenties recurred on a loop. That assault happened at a time and in a space where I was vulnerable, and a man capitalised on an opportunity.  I couldn’t shut out those memories and I was finding it hard to contain my anger and disappointment about the way I believe my government is playing fast and loose with womens and girls’ safety.

Late on Saturday evening, scrolling through children’s pictures before I went to bed, I forgot the first rule of Twitter – never, ever expect a nuanced conversation – and reacted to what I felt was degrading language about women. I spoke up about the importance of sex and have been paying the price ever since. I was transphobic, I was a cunt, a bitch, a TERF, I deserved cancelling, punching and death. You are Voldemort said one person, clearly feeling this was the only language I’d understand.

After notes explaining why she will not silenced by these “playground” bullies and her hopes both for trans safety and revitalized feminist movement dedicated in part to the protection of single-sex safe spaces for women, Rowling concludes:

The last thing I want to say is this. I haven’t written this essay in the hope that anybody will get out a violin for me, not even a teeny-weeny one. I’m extraordinarily fortunate; I’m a survivor, certainly not a victim. I’ve only mentioned my past because, like every other human being on this planet, I have a complex backstory, which shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions. I never forget that inner complexity when I’m creating a fictional character and I certainly never forget it when it comes to trans people.

All I’m asking – all I want – is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse.

You will not be surprised, I suspect, that this last plea has not been heard. The doxxing and out-casting of Rowling as a “trans-phobe” by Harry Potter fandom, to include calls for her publisher to cease publication of her new work and for Warner Brothers to break with her vis a vis Fantastic Beasts.

I am not beholden to J. K. Rowling in any fashion. She has not endorsed my work as a Potter Pundit and I have no hope or realistic expectation of meeting her or benefiting professionally or financially from any relationship with her. I am not her toady or lap-dog; as readers of this blog know well, I find her political positions borderline sophomoric and pedestrian in her naive progressivism, I believe her neglect of the truly vulnerable and at risk children, namely, the unborn, hypocritical, even cowardly, and I found her lawyers’ persecution of Steve Vander Ark, Amanda Donaldson, and of American street festivals and fan conferences pathetic if not just miserly and mean-spirited.

The woman has her faults, in other words, and has been something of a bully herself more than once. I am not afraid to note my disappointments with her beliefs and public positions; I do not believe she is a saint of any sort or immune to criticism, however heroic she has certainly been in her charitable giving of time, talent, and treasure.

On this specific subject, though, I stand with Rowling. I stand with her for women and the their right to safe and sex exclusive areas, for the safety of transgender people, and against the trans activists who have created a ‘cancel culture’ of intimidation on social media. You’ll note that of her five points, the third and central one is “freedom of speech.”

I stood against the fundamentalist believers twenty years ago who decided to use her Harry Potter novels to advance their culture war agenda of dividing the world into ‘True Christians’ and ‘Heretic Satanists.’ I have the scars to prove it. The fundamentalists of trans activism make the Harry Haters of old, however, seem charitable and rational in comparison. As Solzhenitsyn wrote about how to resist the Soviet and fascist totalitarians of old, the only path forward is to “live not by lies,” and my silence while Rowling is suffering undeserved and merciless vituperation as a “trans-phobe,” a ridiculous charge in light of what she has done and what she has explained, would be equivalent to my participation in the injustice of her unreal persecution, what is becoming less a cancellation than a crucifixion.

I respect the right of people to disagree with Rowling on the issue of whether transgender women are women. It’s a free country or used to be. This weblog, dedicated as it is to serious reading, will not become a forum on this subject — and I do not speak for anyone who posts here nor have I consulted anyone before making this post.  I think I can say, though, whatever we may differ on here, that HogwartsProfessor stands for free speech, Rowling’s third and central point, and all the other four, which taken together are about the protection of the vulnerable, i.e., women and transgender people, from violence and the crushing forces of bullying, intimidation, and outcasting for being and thinking differently.

I do not believe, however, in free speech on this forum, a private board dedicated to discussion of reading and writing. If you wish to discuss this issue with me, write me a note or post it elsewhere. This thread is closed. We’ll be moving on to discussion of The Ickabog and its wonderfully ironic posting during the time of Coronavirus, anti-racist and anti-fascist violence and vandalism, and trans activist hysteria.