I read J.K. Rowling’s essay.
I regret doing so.
Here are some thoughts. Trans readers, brace yourselves, especially if you didn’t read the original.
Some help came from Andrew James Carter’s response thread, which has many more citations but feels less compelling to a general audience to me.
This isn’t an easy piece to write, for reasons that will shortly become clear, but I know it’s time to explain myself on an issue surrounded by toxicity. I write this without any desire to add to that toxicity.
I admire that. I, too, would prefer not to add to the toxicity.
For people who don’t know: last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking the judge to rule on whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law. Judge Tayler ruled that it wasn’t.
We are off to a poor start. Framing an unrenewed contract as “losing her job” is dubious. And specifically, Judge Tayler ruled 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” — that is, she would be actively and knowingly rude towards people in the workplace, and that is not protected.
(Forstater later disingenuously claimed to have lost her job for “speaking up about women’s rights”. And I’m just now learning that she compared the use of correct pronouns to the use of rohypnol — the date rape drug — while this court case was pending. Charming.)
All the time I’ve been researching and learning, accusations and threats from trans activists have been bubbling in my Twitter timeline. This was initially triggered by a ‘like’. When I started taking an interest in gender identity and transgender matters, I began screenshotting comments that interested me, as a way of reminding myself what I might want to research later. On one occasion, I absent-mindedly ‘liked’ instead of screenshotting. That single ‘like’ was deemed evidence of wrongthink, and a persistent low level of harassment began.
This sounds like a simple misunderstanding which could have been resolved with a single explanatory tweet. Instead, your spokesperson referred to it as a “clumsy and middle-aged moment”. And now you categorize the tweet vaguely as something to research — suggesting to a casual reader that you had merely liked a link to a scholarly article, perhaps — when it was a mundane personal rant which referred to trans women as “men in dresses”.
I have a hypothesis about where the toxicity began — right there, when you clicked the heart underneath it. It’s something you know is mean and hurtful to the people it describes, and is intended to be so, and you not only defend it but cloak it in an obligatory 1984 reference. This is deceptive, mean-spirited, and shameful.
We are only on paragraph four.
Months later, I compounded my accidental ‘like’ crime by following Magdalen Burns on Twitter. Magdalen was an immensely brave young feminist and lesbian who was dying of an aggressive brain tumour. I followed her because I wanted to contact her directly, which I succeeded in doing. However, as 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, dots were joined in the heads of twitter trans activists, and the level of social media abuse increased.
“You are fucking blackface actors. You aren’t women. You’re men who get sexual kicks from being treated like women. fuck you and your dirty fucking perversions. our oppression isn’t a fetish you pathetic, sick, fuck.”
That’s what Magdalen Berns, whose name you misspelled, had to say about trans women. (Ironically, it’s not too far off from what folks used to say — and occasionally still do — about gay folks.) I’m going to hazard a guess that this was more of a concern than any discourse about who lesbians choose to date.
The funny thing is, while I’ve seen the “gender critical” crowd complain numerous times that trans women are somehow trying to force cis lesbians to have sex with them (by tweeting about it?), I’ve virtually never witnessed the phenomenon directly — and I am neck-deep in trans Twitter. Perhaps two or three times over the years, I’ve seen some discourse about “genital attraction” and whether it’s socially influenced, which I suppose is an interesting question. On one singular occasion, such a tweet came uncomfortably close to suggesting that people were obligated to correct for what’s presumed to be social influence in who they’re attracted to, and I swiftly pushed back against it.
But the way “gender critical” folks talk about this, you’d think it was the only topic trans women ever discuss! Meanwhile, do you know who most trans women I know are dating? Each other!
I mention all this only to explain that I knew perfectly well what was going to happen when I supported Maya. I must have been on my fourth or fifth cancellation by then.
I expected the threats of violence, to be told I was literally killing trans people with my hate, to be called cunt and bitch and, of course, for my books to be burned, although one particularly abusive man told me he’d composted them.
I am genuinely sorry that people are abusive on Twitter, but I don’t know how to avoid it when you have more followers than the populations of NYC and LA combined. It’s a much broader problem, though definitely exacerbated when you support someone who has been fighting for the right to be deliberately hostile.
I’m not sure what to make of the last part. Is composting a book worse than burning it? And are you hinting a comparison between burning one’s own personal property and the actions of Nazi Germany, or am I reading too much into this conspicuous phrasing? I hope the latter, because the former would be extremely tasteless, considering that part of what was burned was the research and library of a sex research institute which was founded by the man who coined the term “transsexualism” and had trans people as both staff and clients.
What I didn’t expect in the aftermath of my cancellation was the avalanche of emails and letters that came showering down upon me, the overwhelming majority of which were positive, grateful and supportive. They 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 [sic] rights. Above all, they’re worried about a climate of fear that serves nobody – least of all trans youth – well.
I note, conspicuously, that zero of them were from trans people, or you surely would’ve mentioned as much. You give trans youth a token mention at the end, but only as an object of external concern, not as people to be listened to and trusted about their own experiences. This is a theme that I see we’ll be revisiting.
I’d stepped back from Twitter for many months both before and after tweeting support for Maya, because I knew it was doing nothing good for my mental health. I only returned because I wanted to share a free children’s book during the pandemic. Immediately, activists who clearly believe themselves to be good, kind and progressive people swarmed back into my timeline, assuming a right to police my speech, accuse me of hatred, call me misogynistic slurs and, above all – as every woman involved in this debate will know – TERF.
I note for the audience that the “gender critical” crowd — you know, TERFs — love to use the term TRA (trans rights activist) to refer to pretty much any trans person who doesn’t buy what they’re selling. I don’t know if this is meant to be a dogwhistle, but it at least quacks like one.
More generally, “activists” is a favored scare word across the political spectrum, much like “ideology” — it conjures the image of someone who is angrily trying to push Politics on you, while neatly obscuring that the political view they’re trying to push is “please don’t be cruel to me or people like me”. Are you, Rowling, not an activist? What about the people you support, like Berns? You use “activist” ten times in this essay, and every single time to describe trans people.
It’s rhetorical sleight of hand. Trans people who want to live their lives without being called blackface actors are “activists”, while the people making those comments are merely expressing concerns. Telling people what they should be able to wear earns no mention in this essay at all, but replying on a public platform to tell you that you are being hurtful is “policing your speech”.
Do you know where I first learned about this trick? From people who opposed the gay rights movement. “Gay rights activist” was a phrase I saw bandied about a lot while I was growing up, as though wanting to be able to marry one’s partner instantly transformed a person into some sort of unreasonable lobbyist, while opposing it was just the normal and natural thing to do. Frequently they’d have one gay person who agreed with them to put on a pedestal, the proof that they didn’t actually hate gay people — at least not the ones who’d sit down and shut up and accept whatever scraps they were given.
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.
As any best-selling author would know, if a word is used incorrectly at least two times on Twitter, it loses all meaning.
From what I’ve observed, the vast majority of people referred to as TERFs are people who claim an interest in the well-being of women and lesbians, but exclude trans women from that (or outright classify them all as predators), treat trans men as confused women, speak over or outright ignore the people they claim to be defending, and spend an awful lot of time inventing or vastly exacerbating “concerns” about trans people so as to excuse spending an awful lot of the rest of their time saying incredibly nasty things.
Ironically, radical feminists aren’t even trans-exclusionary – they include trans men in their feminism, because they were born women.
This is trans-exclusionary. It’s feminism that ignores and talks over trans men, which is a strange thing for feminists to do to people they consider to be 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?
Not wanting to come across as hating a group of people is generally considered polite. Imagine saying this about, I don’t know, lesbians.
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).
Is “courage is stored in the balls” feminist now?
But since you bring up dimorphism, here’s a fun anecdote that’s relevant to my field. It seems that one of the biggest factors a neural network (“AI”) uses to determine a person’s gender is… hair length! Which isn’t a dimorphic trait, at least not how you’d think. The sexes are not really all that distinct; much of it is decoration we put on ourselves to exacerbate the differences, for some reason.
For some more anecdotes, feel free to look for reports of cis lesbians being kicked out of public women’s restrooms for looking too masculine. Like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one. Whose activism do you suppose would exacerbate this?
Firstly, I have a charitable trust that focuses on alleviating social deprivation in Scotland, with a particular emphasis on women and children. Among other things, my trust supports projects for female prisoners and for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. I also fund medical research into MS, a disease that behaves very differently in men and women. It’s been clear to me for a while that the new trans activism is having (or is likely to have, if all its demands are met) a significant impact on many of the causes I support, because it’s pushing to erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender.
What a perfect example. What does it mean for MS to behave very differently in men and women? “Man” versus “woman” isn’t a switch you flip; it’s a combination of dozens of factors. If the difference is caused by hormone levels — which looks plausible — then trans women on HRT will be affected similarly to cis women, because they have the same levels of estrogen! And by excluding them — by insisting we talk only about “biological” “men” and “women” rather than specific biological factors — you are miscategorizing them for no reason.
The second reason is that I’m an ex-teacher and the founder of a children’s charity, which gives me an interest in both education and safeguarding. Like many others, I have deep concerns about the effect the trans rights movement is having on both.
Ah, you mean Lumos, the charity you cofounded with Baroness Emma Nicholson, who just yesterday said that gay marriage is degrading women’s rights after attempting to repeal it in 2013? I have some deep concerns about the effect this person will have on the well-being of gay teens — and she’s not a mere “activist” or “movement”, but a lawmaker! Strange company you keep. And that’s not even getting into how she called it pedophilia for a trans charity’s website to have an escape button on it in case of abusive parents, a mere week and a half ago.
The third is that, as a much-banned author, I’m interested in freedom of speech and have publicly defended it, even unto Donald Trump.
“Much-banned”? You wrote one of the best-selling books of all time and the best-selling series of all time. You have sold at least one book for every fourteen humans alive and made almost a dozen movie deals. When you tweet, it trends for days and makes national headlines. Your freedom of speech is not at risk here — and if it were, you could probably afford to inscribe whatever you wanted to say on the face of the moon.
The fourth is where things start to get truly personal. I’m concerned about the huge explosion in young women [sic] 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.
Yes, it’s truly tragic that homophobia is still rampant, such as in the baroness you cofounded a charity with. Especially in parents. Incidentally, the most common reason given for detransitioning — which is pressure from a parent (36%, see page 108); the next is harassment/discrimination (31%), followed by having trouble getting a job (29%). Most of the other reasons given were pressure from some other external source. Only 0.4% of the people in that survey reported detransitioning because they simply did not like transition. And, by the way, detransition (even temporarily) is several times more common in trans women than trans men.
If you really want to fight detransition, the most effective action you could take would be to delete this post. But you’re approaching this from the perspective that trans men are confused, just like swaths of homophobic parents have said of their gay children.
Most people probably aren’t aware – I certainly wasn’t, until I started researching this issue properly – that ten years ago, the majority of people wanting to transition to the opposite sex were male. That ratio has now reversed. The UK has experienced a 4400% increase in girls [sic] being referred for transitioning treatment. Autistic girls [sic] are hugely overrepresented in their numbers.
Of course they are. Trans people are disproportionately autistic, so this is to be expected. I’d think this would be cause for celebration — people are being treated who previously wouldn’t have been! That’s excellent progress.
But instead of celebrating it, you suggest here that autistic trans boys are being taken advantage of. No, worse; you suggest that autistic trans boys are incapable of making decisions about their own lives, and don’t even respect them enough to refer to them as they wish to be referred to. You speak over them, dismiss them as obviously wrong out of hand, and ignore how they wish to be referred to while pretending to care about their well-being. This is deeply condescending and appalling.
As an aside, it’s quite frustrating that you so frequently refuse to connect the dots — instead you leave a trail of breadcrumbs and let some haunting conclusion form in the reader’s head, while retaining plausible deniability for yourself because you never actually said the things you’re trying to imply. That leaves you free to claim that a response like this one, which spells out the winks and nods, is yet more dismissable harassment.
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.’
Littman mentioned Tumblr, Reddit, Instagram and YouTube as contributing factors to Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, where she believes that in the realm of transgender identification ‘youth have created particularly insular echo chambers.’
Her paper caused a furore. She was accused of bias and of spreading misinformation about transgender people, subjected to a tsunami of abuse and a concerted campaign to discredit both her and her work. The journal took the paper offline and re-reviewed it before republishing it.
This is probably because “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” is not a real phenomenon. The critical flaw in the idea is so blatantly obvious that you’ve very nearly spelled it out yourself: parents described an “unusual” pattern of behavior. Not the children themselves, not psychologists, not therapists. Parents. Parents who are upset that their children are coming out as trans, who are searching for some external factor to blame so they can rest assured that their children have simply been taken advantage of by some nefarious force.
I remember this all quite well from the 90s, except then it was about homosexuality. (A pattern begins to emerge.) There were no signs!, cry parents who punished their children for ever showing any signs, thus swiftly teaching them to put on a good act. It must be the media. It must be the evil other gays somehow influencing my poor child, who otherwise would be straight, like I want them to be.
The only difference is that this time it’s been given an acronym to lend it some veneer of credibility. But it’s not a clinical diagnosis; it’s a study of the feelings of parents who were caught off guard and are searching for an explanation other than “my child is trans”. Even the paper itself has a preface saying the term “should not be used in a way to imply that it explains the experiences of all gender dysphoric youth”.
There’s no mystery to be solved here, anyway. Talk to a single queer person (who isn’t isolated due to factors beyond their control) and I’ll bet you they have disproportionately many queer friends. People who are alike tend to clump together, especially if they sense that society at large is uncomfortable with them. All that’s been observed here is that trans teenagers form friend groups, and when one of them comes out, the others feel confident enough to come out as well. And their parents don’t like it, because of a culture that includes essays like this from household names with massive platforms.
However, her career took a similar hit to that suffered by Maya Forstater. Lisa Littman had dared challenge one of the central tenets of trans activism, which is that a person’s gender identity is innate, like sexual orientation. Nobody, the activists insisted, could ever be persuaded into being trans.
I remember this from the 90s, too. I remember the argument having to be made that sexual orientation is fixed and absolute and predetermined — because, regardless of how true or universal that may or may not be, the alternative is to leave the door open for parents and communities to try to “fix” gay children and ostracize the gay adults who had “persuaded” them into being gay.
Here we go again, except the “fix” for trans youth is to merely tell them to knock it off because they’re mistaken and leave it at that.
The argument of many current trans activists is that if you don’t let a gender dysphoric teenager transition, they will kill themselves. In an article explaining why he resigned from the Tavistock (an NHS gender clinic in England) psychiatrist Marcus Evans stated that claims that children will kill themselves if not permitted to transition do not ‘align substantially with any robust data or studies in this area. Nor do they align with the cases I have encountered over decades as a psychotherapist.’
They won’t necessarily kill themselves, but you could throw a rock and hit a study telling you that trans folks have a shockingly high rate of suicide attempts, and the absolute number one factor that drops that rate precipitously is transition. Or you could talk to a trans person and see if they have a friend who attempted/committed suicide because they were unable to transition (yes). Or at the very least, maybe cite someone who didn’t resign.
What a shockingly insensitive thing to say.
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. I struggled with severe OCD as a teenager. If I’d found community and sympathy online that I couldn’t find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred.
You call them clever, but immediately turn around and suggest that they are somehow artificially trans, that they have been “persuaded” into it. Again, you express ostensible care but use it as a springboard to dismiss them and talk over them. And what of trans women, who are well aware of what womanhood entails but still prefer it? This is precisely what I mentioned as the common TERF rhetoric, and is why people are calling you one: you speak piteously of trans men while suggesting with every word that you know better than they do what’s good for them, while trans women are… well, who knows what that omission might imply?
When I read about the theory of gender identity, I remember how mentally sexless I felt in youth. I remember Colette’s description of herself as a ‘mental hermaphrodite’ and Simone de Beauvoir’s words: ‘It is perfectly natural for the future woman to feel indignant at the limitations posed upon her by her sex. The real question is not why she should reject them: the problem is rather to understand why she accepts them.’
As I didn’t have a realistic possibility of becoming a man back in the 1980s, it had to be books and music that got me through both my mental health issues and the sexualised scrutiny and judgement that sets so many girls to war against their bodies in their teens. Fortunately for me, I found my own sense of otherness, and my ambivalence about being a woman, reflected in the work of female writers and musicians who reassured me that, in spite of everything a sexist world tries to throw at the female-bodied, it’s fine not to feel pink, frilly and compliant inside your own head; it’s OK to feel confused, dark, both sexual and non-sexual, unsure of what or who you are.
At last, you spell it out. But trans men are not confused and don’t need you to save them.
I want to be very clear here: I know transition will be a solution for some gender dysphoric people, although I’m also aware through extensive research that studies have consistently shown that between 60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria.
Flat-out incorrect. I assume you’re referring to research that the bulk (“65 to 94 percent”) of dysphoric prepubescent children will “grow out of it” — but if it persists beyond puberty (i.e., into their teens), it’s most likely permanent.
Again and again I’ve been told to ‘just meet some trans people.’ I have: in addition to a few younger people, who were all adorable, I happen to know a self-described transsexual woman who’s older than I am and wonderful. Although she’s open about her past as a gay man, I’ve always found it hard to think of her as anything other than a woman, and I believe (and certainly hope) she’s completely happy to have transitioned.
Describing them as “adorable” does not fill me with confidence that you listened to anything they had to say, especially in light of your repeated attempts to cast trans boys as confused or misled.
I’m glad you have 1 trans friend, whose viewpoint or input you manage to not actually mention whatsoever before using her as a foothold to make another “concerned” point:
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.
If you would “just meet some trans people”, you would know that the long and rigorous process is torture. Quite regularly I see tweets — from folks in the UK especially — about having to wait for up to a year or more just to see a gender therapist once, after which they have to wait even longer to even begin hormones. In the US, I’ve read no end of anecdotes from people who have to perform the right “kind” of transness to convince a therapist to write them a referral letter, after who knows how many sessions. And this is, quite often, after years of internal debate and questioning. Years and years of their lives lost forever.
All of this is predicated, once again, on the idea that trans people just don’t know what’s good for themselves.
A man [sic] who intends to have no surgery and take no hormones may now secure himself [sic] a Gender Recognition Certificate and be a woman in the sight of the law. Many people aren’t aware of this.
She would need a formal diagnosis and to have lived as a woman for at least two years. At least as written, a cis man cannot simply show up and get an F stamped on his passport. I don’t even know what possible purpose that would serve.
We’re living through the most misogynistic period I’ve experienced. Back in the 80s, I imagined that my future daughters, should I have any, would have it far better than I ever did, but between the backlash against feminism and a porn-saturated online culture, I believe things have got significantly worse for girls. Never have I seen women denigrated and dehumanised to the extent they are now. From the leader of the free world’s long history of sexual assault accusations and his proud boast of ‘grabbing them by the pussy’, to the incel (‘involuntarily celibate’) movement that rages against women who won’t give them sex, to the trans activists who declare that TERFs need punching and re-educating, men across the political spectrum seem to agree: women are asking for trouble. Everywhere, women are being told to shut up and sit down, or else.
I cannot believe you are comparing sexual assault and incels — who have committed mass shootings! — to angry trans people tweeting anime screenshots captioned “shut up” at you. “TERF” doesn’t even imply a woman — the most infamous one by far is a man, Graham Lineham!
Meanwhile, you have — multiple times in this essay — suggested that trans boys are misled and the choices they’ve made for themselves are somehow mistakes. I know you consider them women, because your exact phrasing was to call them “girls [sic] being referred for transitioning treatment” and then reframe their choices as actually being about misogyny. What kind of feminism is it to decide you know better than people you think are women? Not even decide, but take for granted, speak about as though their agency never existed to be dismissed in the first place?
I’ve read all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don’t have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive. It’s also clear that one of the objectives of denying the importance of sex is to erode what some seem to see as the cruelly segregationist idea of women having their own biological realities or – just as threatening – unifying realities that make them a cohesive political class. The hundreds of emails I’ve received in the last few days prove this erosion concerns many others just as much. It isn’t enough for women to be trans allies. Women must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves.
Who has said that cis women don’t have common biological experiences? The issue is that most trans men and some nonbinary folks also have those experiences (and some cis women don’t), so if you’re going to talk about them, why not talk about the experience instead of saying “women” and presuming that everyone will intuit which of a dozen possible facets of womanhood you’re referring to?
And if the experience in question is a social one, based on other people’s perception of you as a woman, then guess what: loads of trans women will also have had those experiences.
But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume. ‘Woman’ is not an idea in a man’s head. ‘Woman’ is not a pink brain, a liking for Jimmy Choos or any of the other sexist ideas now somehow touted as progressive.
The women saying those things, anecdotally, appear to have significant overlap with women who criticize trans women for not “looking” female enough. Or who, sadly, misidentify cis women as trans women for not “looking” female enough. You know, that refined classical sexism.
If trans women wear dresses, they’re treating womanhood as a costume; if they don’t, they’re faking it.
Moreover, the ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning. I understand why trans activists consider this language to be appropriate and kind, but for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating.
Clearly you don’t understand, as no one is blanket referring to “female people” as “menstruators”. The current kerfuffle started because you commented on an article titled “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate”. It used that phrasing because it was about menstruation (and was written by three women). The only person in this whole mess who has tried to reduce women to their body parts is you, in your initial tweet, insisting that menstruation is a uniquely defining feature of womanhood.
Moreover, the article is about addressing a women’s health and women’s rights issue, and it mentions women frequently, but your only response was to criticize the title for trying to include the very people — trans men — that you keep trampling in this essay. I find your choice of priorities increasingly alarming.
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.
I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of colour, are at particular risk. Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.
So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. 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.
I’m sorry for what you went through, but these few paragraphs horrify me. You understand and describe in vivid detail what some of these women go through, how their lives end, how at risk they are, and then immediately segue into how those women should not be given shelter — hell, not even just shelter, but a place to pee — because someone else might hypothetically abuse it.
I must be missing something, because this has never made sense to me. People who commit sexual assault are not especially interested in following the rules, so how is adding another rule meant to dissuade them from this contrived scheme? If someone is around to police who goes into the bathroom, why could that same person not instead intervene if someone tries to cause harm?
Anyway, what do you propose instead? You never say, which seems deeply at odds with your desire for trans women to be safe. The only alternative I ever hear involves checking identification and chromosomal analysis and all kinds of other absurdity — which is clearly aimed at trans folks and not nefarious men. Are you fine with the status quo, which is that trans people already use whatever bathroom they find most appropriate? Or do you think your trans woman friend should be forced into the men’s room, surrounded by men? Without saying one way or the other, you’re actively encouraging fear and hostility towards people who just want to pee — and not just towards trans people, but towards anyone who doesn’t “look female enough”.
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.
Why did you take it out on the very people you just said you also want to be safe? Why did you take it out on an article that had little to do with safety and was pushing for better health and privacy? You’ve already said you know exactly how your actions will be perceived, so the backlash this time cannot have come as a surprise.
There was so much opportunity here for talking about cultural expectations and gender roles, how those foster and overlook violence and aggression from boys from a young age, how a lot of societal structures still suggest that men are “owed” something by women, or how violence is more broadly glorified in Western culture. As a world-renowned author who’s done extensive feminist research, you could surely make an impact.
Instead, you decided to hurt people.
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.
You offered absolutely no nuance yourself, and this essay has carefully weaved around it the whole time as well. You, a straight person, co-opted the gay community’s struggle so you could wield it as a club against trans people — after tossing them Dumbledore as a token afterthought — despite having ties yourself to an MP who has actively tried to erode gay rights.
But yes, let us talk about Harry Potter and how it reflects your values. Zero non-heterosexual characters mentioned within the canon. But more of interest: where are the women? The main character, a boy; his mentor and the primary authority figure, a man; the teacher he’s at odds with, a man; the rival and entourage, all boys; his best friend, a boy; the awkward coward who gets a late redemption arc, a boy; the primary antagonist, a man; the sympathetic adult confidant, a man; the rediscovered long-lost family member, a man; the endlessly regenerating Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, all men except for the cartoon villain Umbridge. The Weasleys have seven children; six are boys. Two of the Hogwarts founders are men, and two women… ah, but the men are the founders of the two plot-important houses. Vernon is clearly the head of the Dursley family, and their only child is a boy. On it goes.
Girls can aspire to be the nerd no one likes (hey, that’s me!), the insane woman no one believes, the abusive monster, the nurse with no personality, or one of a handful of love interests. McGonagall is extremely cool and can turn into a cat, I grant you. And I think there was someone named Bellatrix? But wasn’t she a Death Eater?
I don’t claim to be an expert on your series; on the contrary, I read them casually when they came out and haven’t revisited them since. This is the cast that left an impression on me. I have published half-hour video games with more female characters than I can name off the top of my head from the entire Harry Potter canon. Where was your concern for uplifting girls throughout the decade you spent writing the most popular book series in the history of the human race? Where was your interest in the well-being of gay teens as you dedicated untold pages to descriptions of wizard football?
I hope that’s enough nuance.
It would be so much easier to tweet the approved hashtags – because of course trans rights are human rights and of course trans lives matter – scoop up the woke cookies and bask in a virtue-signalling afterglow. 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.”
“Virtue signalling” is not in itself a bad thing; it is literally the indication to others of what our values are, so others know what we believe and how we are likely to treat them. Your essay still signals your virtues, as does mine.
“Of course” trans rights are human rights? I cannot even tell if this is meant to be serious or sarcastic, with how much seething resentment you’ve wrapped it in. Do you also consider your supposed support of lesbians to be “conformity”, since that’s no longer an especially controversial stance?
This is all outright reactionary rhetoric and you know it. You are using the very same catchphrases that the incels you so revile use when justifying their hatred for women.
Huge numbers of women are justifiably terrified by the trans activists; I know this because so many have got in touch with me to tell their stories. They’re afraid of doxxing, of losing their jobs or their livelihoods, and of violence.
Who is doxxing people? I tried to look into this and instead found a list of TERF websites with a prominent warning that they track and doxx and harass trans people; the Rational Wiki asserting that TERFs engage in doxxing; and this second-hand account that an ex-TERF was “threatened with doxing” by her own allies and “kept in a perpetual state of fear”.
And who on earth is sinking to violence over this? I find e.g. the “photo with a gun pointed at the viewer” phenomenon pretty distasteful, but it doesn’t seem to be unique to this issue, it’s not an especially credible threat of violence, and it’s the closest to actual violence I’ve ever heard of here. Surely, if anyone had come to blows, we’d never hear the end of it?
I note that Forstater’s contract wasn’t renewed because, as best as we can tell, she made her coworkers uncomfortable and the work environment hostile. Meanwhile, trans people can be (and are) fired for simply existing. Citing this as a fear people have of trans people, as though they were some large shadowy conspiracy, feels fairly tasteless.
But 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. I stand alongside the brave women and men, gay, straight and trans, who’re standing up for freedom of speech and thought, and for the rights and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society: young gay kids, fragile teenagers, and women who’re reliant on and wish to retain their single sex spaces. Polls show those women are in the vast majority, and exclude only those 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.
By “young gay kids” and “fragile teenagers”, are you once again obliquely referring to young trans people who you take to be merely confused? What of their freedom of thought, of their right to decide who they are for themselves without seeing you use them as ammunition against other people like them? What impact do you think that will have on them, exactly?
Falling back on “freedom of speech” to defend one’s own hurtful speech is another reactionary talking point; when you cannot defend your speech on its own merits, you can only defend that it is not literally illegal to say.
What polls are you finding? 26% is not a vast majority, and it’s troubling that you proactively dismiss the women who disagree with you as aloof and uninformed. What kind of feminism is that?
The one thing that gives me hope is that the women who can protest and organise, are doing so, and they have some truly decent men and trans people alongside them. Political parties seeking to appease the loudest voices in this debate are ignoring women’s concerns at their peril. In the UK, women are reaching out to each other across party lines, concerned about the erosion of their hard-won rights and widespread intimidation. None of the gender critical women I’ve talked to hates trans people; on the contrary. Many of them became interested in this issue in the first place out of concern for trans youth, and they’re hugely sympathetic towards trans adults who simply want to live their lives, but who’re facing a backlash for a brand of activism they don’t endorse. The supreme irony is that the attempt to silence women with the word ‘TERF’ may have pushed more young women towards radical feminism than the movement’s seen in decades.
Absolute bullshit. You’ve consistently brushed off or spoken for women and trans men who disagree with you in this post alone, but frame your own stance as though it were shared by all women. Two women you’ve mentioned by name and made a point of supporting — Maya Forstater and Magdalen Berns — have said some astonishingly cruel things about trans people as blanket remarks, so I can only interpret their “non-hate” in the same way as people repeatedly told my younger self that they loved me but I would burn for all eternity if I kissed both boys and girls. If their “concern” for trans youth is anything like yours, then they’re only interested in trying to berate trans youth into not wanting to be trans any more — yet again, no different from how homophobia played out.
And, hang on, they’re hugely sympathetic towards trans adults who’re facing backlash? You must be joking. They — and you — ARE the backlash! What good is sympathy from the very people who are deliberately hurting you?
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.
You’ve done so multiple times in this essay alone, and your heroes do it on a pretty consistent basis. What an insult to everyone who read this.
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.
In the entirety of this essay, you didn’t even mention a single concrete concern. You did some vague fearmongering about how a cis man could get a piece of paper saying he’s a woman, and that’s all. Meanwhile, you managed to repeatedly misgender and patronize trans boys; paint trans adults as a nefarious political movement trying to “persuade” children; cite multiple people who’ve been fiercely nasty towards trans people as a whole, while avoiding mentioning what they actually did so you could frame them as innocent victims; invoke multiple homophobic and reactionary tropes with a quick coat of paint slapped on top; present “parents who wish their children were cis” as though it were a diagnosed phenomenon; and generally checked off every possible TERF talking point while smiling kindly the whole time.
You’re saying things you know are actively hurtful in the name of preventing a hypothetical harm that is so nebulous you can’t even describe it.