Disclaimer: the following article contains harmful language and especially hard discussion around transphobia. Take care of yourself and make sure your mental health is okay before continuing.
Earlier this month, children’s author and billionaire J.K. Rowling doubled down on transphobic statements she made over social media. This wasn’t too surprising for trans people online; we’d been noticing that she had been liking and reblogging transphobic statements for ages.
Here’s the thing: as someone who’s been on the internet for seemingly ever, it’s easy to spot the transphobia in Rowling’s statements.
Sometimes her comments are visibly transphobic, like her online support for the statement on Twitter calling trans women “men in dresses” who are protected by “brocialist solidarity” in British politics. Sometimes it’s more complicated, like her comments about menstruation excluding trans men and nonbinary folks.
So let’s sit down and discuss how we can learn to recognize the transphobic logic behind well embedded and bigoted statements.
So…What is transphobia?
Transphobia is the discrimination and prejudice against transgender people. It isn’t, like the name suggests, a fear of trans folks.
It can show up in society through systemic discrimination (hello current political situation in United States), or through smaller less obvious actions sometimes called microaggressions. A transphobic action can be your teacher refusing to use your pronouns properly, or your friend calling trans women “disgusting” or other slurs.
Real fact: Nine times out of ten, people misunderstand what transphobia is.
For example, when the sanitary brand Always declared that it would be removing the Venus symbol from their designs, people were quick to blame it on trans women. “Who, apart from women, uses menstrual products?” wrote Montreal columnist Nassira Belloula in an inflammatory opinion piece in the last week.
Rowling herself posted a tweet making fun of making menstruation more inclusive to trans people saying, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?
Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate https://t.co/cVpZxG7gaA
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
People want to blame trans women for every act of “unnecessary trans inclusion” when a lot of the times it’s not even trans women who are asking for it!
Hello, it’s us… trans men ( and nonbinary folks ) assigned female at birth!
Why does it matter?
Transphobia causes the world and it’s inhabitants to be threatening and dangerous to transgender people. There is a constant threat of physical violence, especially to trans women of color.
As a white trans man, most transphobes wouldn’t consider me a target for physical violence, especially since I “pass”.
Passing is a controversial term that refers to a trans person’s ability to be seen as their gender in society, and not raise any questions or curious glances due to their gender presentation.
Since no one on the street questions that I’m a young white man, I’m rarely considered a target for threats or violence. The only time I receive any hate or discrimination from strangers for being trans is when I’m online. People will either send me messages fetishizing me or telling me how I’m “not really a man” or that I’m a “butch woman with internalized misogyny” (more on that later).
Luckily, there’s a block button online but transphobes will still find a way even after being blocked.
Trans people are often “doxxed” online, which is when someone publicly reveals all your personal information and your physical location in order to intimidate you.
There are horrible stories of trans women being forcibly outed in an attempt to silence them online. If you’re feeling shivers from this, know that it’s not for nothing: the risks are real.
What does this have to do with JK Rowling?
Over the last couple of years, Rowling has gotten herself involved with the “trans-exclusionary radical feminist” movement in the UK. This movement has tried to remove trans women from shared social spaces or remove them from Pride parades.
They claim that to be a woman you need to have two specific things: you have to have been born “biologically female”, and have been raised to experience the traumas that our all too misogynistic world subjects on women everywhere.
This definition is a whopper. It manages to both exclude trans women, and include trans men or nonbinary people who really don’t want to be seen as “biologically female”. It also ties up the notion that womanhood is defined by how trauma and how society treats women.
Humor me for a moment: imagine we lived in an ideal society where we didn’t have discrimination. Feels nice, doesn’t it? If we lived in that society, would women still be defined by misogyny?
Rowling has spent the last few years showing support for TERFs and “gender critical” feminists online. If you’re a trans person on the internet, you know what these folks are: they’re the people on mumnet.com who question the legitimacy of “every young teenage girl becoming nonbinary!” or the folks on Reddit who will fight to death over the fact that not every trans man is into women exclusively (because if they were, then they’re just actually butch lesbians).
How is Rowling “doubling down” on her transphobia?
I’d like to pick apart a few of her standout statements in the article “J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues”. There are a ton… and I mean a TON of statements that I could pick apart here but will focus on just a few in particular.
It’s a chance to see subtle transphobia in action, in the wild!
Now, wands at the ready children!
“I compounded my accidental ‘like’ crime by following Magdalen Berns on Twitter. Magdalen was an immensely brave young feminist and lesbian who was dying of an aggressive brain tumor.”
Google Magdalen Berns’ tweets. Go on, check ‘em out.
My favorites include the one where she writes, “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.” or “[…] Literally zero of you ‘pass’ as women.”
This is why trans people online were immediately worried about Rowling’s engagement with Berns.
Berns has since passed away. She might have been a tour de force for cis women, but she was an absolute nightmare to trans people everywhere, particularly trans women. Berns co-founded a Scottish campaign to oppose any change to the Gender Recognition Act so that it might extend privileges to trans people.In any other context, calling Berns a “brave young feminist” might arguably be okay. But when you’re being criticized as being transphobic, throwing your support for someone who was so arguably hateful towards trans people is not a good move.
Trans women are often accused of being “perverted”. A lot of this hate comes from a prominent Canadian psychologist, Dr. Ray Blanchard, who developed a now-debunked theory of “autogynephilia”.
In his mind, there were two types of trans women: hetero trans women who passed in the eyes of society, and queer trans women who didn’t seem to pass as well. The first group was seen as somehow closer to being “real women” in his eyes, and the latter group was seen as perverted people who simply were attracted to women, therefore wanted to embody that attraction themselves.
It’s an incredibly old school and transphobic concept, and if you’re interested in learning more I’d highly recommend Natalie Wynn from the Youtube channel ContraPoints’ video on it.
“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.”
Umm… yeah. Those people can be TERFs. If your feminism doesn’t include trans women, then you’re not really for the equality of all women.
Also, the woman in question who popularized the outrage around including trans women in women’s changing rooms said it this way, “No one would even dream of putting a female child’s right to a safe space above a man’s to get kinky with women’s underwear.”
News flash: assault is still illegal! Just because trans women aren’t being discriminated against for not fitting your rigid ideas of what a woman should look like, doesn’t mean we’re allowing people to walk up and just assault innocent people.
If that trans woman had “passed” in their eyes, they wouldn’t have even cared or noticed. Instead, they focused on the sexual aspect when the trans woman in question was likely just trying to get a pair of knickers and a bra without causing trouble.
Radical Feminism & Trans Men
“Ironically, radical feminists aren’t even trans-exclusionary – they include trans men in their feminism because they were born women.”
This part absolutely makes my blood boil. We do not want to be included in your definition of feminism! Being included as “women” makes us feel intense dysphoria, and absolutely infantilizes trans men.
Gender critical people and TERFs believe that trans men are being brainwashed by the patriarchy. They call us “trans-identified females” and believe that we’re only trying to escape the harmful misogyny that society inflicts on women, or get rid of homophobia.
Just lurking on the Gender Critical subs tells you how they trust our autonomy. One poster asked how to support trans men in order to change their minds, and someone replied, “sow seeds of doubt as long as you don’t get banned”.
You’re not sowing seeds of doubt that makes people happily run into the arms of womanhood. Gender dysphoria can be stamped down, but it comes back in waves. Trans people are at a greater risk for suicide, and dysphoria and lack of support in society is one of the biggest reasons why.
Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria
Rowling references a paper by Lisa Littman, who’s kind of like the Ray Blanchard of “autogynephilia” fame for transmasculine people. She coined a concept called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” where she said young teenage girls were being influenced by social media and trans friends to transition.
Her study has been debunked time and time again. There’s major criticism within her discipline, and not just by trans academics.
Are teenagers potentially experimenting with their gender identity and expression more now? Possibly! If a teenager decides to go by “them/them” pronouns, dress in a more gender-fluid way, then decide to go by their assigned gender again… what’s the harm?
The way that ROGD has become popular amongst parents reminds me of the fear that talking about queer people will cause our children to become confused and want to be queer themselves.
Gay and transness is not a disease and it’s not contagious.
Rowling repeatedly brings up the fear of sexual assault, by opening up washrooms and changing rooms to trans women. This is a huge myth that leads to trans women being attacked and murdered.
I can’t say this enough… sexual assault is still illegal!
Why is that even being questioned? The amount of people being assaulted due to the inclusion of trans people is virtually nonexistent, as reported by Politifact.com.
The evidence shows that trans people are at incredibly high risk of getting injured for using public washrooms.
In 2019, Lauren Jackson had bones broken for using the washroom as a trans woman. In February, a video circulated of a trans woman (Alexa) Neulisa Luciano Ruiz being murdered for using the women’s washroom in Puerto Rico. Just days ago, a Canadian trans woman was attacked in a shopping center by two other women and injured.
Trans people, especially trans women of color, are overwhelmingly at risk for being attacked in public and it is a disgrace to ignore these hate crimes.
It’s important to understand why transphobia is so embedded in our culture. Just this week, an American lawmaker quoted JK Rowling in a hearing on a bill for LGBTQIA+ protections.
These discussions matter. Trans people matter. Trans people of color matter. Black trans women matter.
We need to do more to protect people, both from hateful rhetoric and violent actions. Unwrapping transphobia from our culture might take a while, and yes, it might ruin some of our favorite childhood memories but we have to. People’s lives are at stake.
We have to do more.
If you’re interested in helping out, here are some good places to donate resources to:
- The Okra Project donates resources to black trans people around the world.
- The Transgender Law Centre fights for trans rights in the United States.
- ASTTEQ is an organization in Montreal, Canada that seeks to provide resources to trans and gender-nonconforming people in Quebec.
Stay queer, friends. Don’t let bigots get you down.
Featured art by Marie-Maxime Giguère