• J.K. Rowling is back in the news for her views on transgender people. (Getty Images North America)Source: Getty Images North America
"I have little hope that J.K. Rowling will see the light," writes Travis Hunter, a transmasculine identified writer.
By
Travis Hunter

10 Jun 2020 - 9:40 AM  UPDATED 10 Jun 2020 - 2:07 PM

OPINION

Famous children’s author JK Rowling has chosen this time - the middle of a global pandemic and the global Black Lives Matter protests - to have a transphobic Twitter outburst. This, at a time when it seemed like finally the downtrodden - including transgender women of colour - might be finding their voice. Quite rightly, she is getting clapped back at, by celebrity and non-celeb alike.

I've tried to refrain from engaging but remaining silent in the face of injustice is complicity. However there is little chance that any transgender person will ever be able to convince someone who is wholly convinced of their ideological correctness, that they are wrong. So this is for anyone out there who is standing by, wondering 'does JK Rowling have a point'?

There is a short answer and a long answer and the answer to both is 'hell no'. Here's why:

Q: What's wrong with JK Rowling saying “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.”

A: It's incorrect on a number of levels. It's the equivalent of saying 'homosexuality isn't real' or 'gay marriage will reduce the sanctity of heterosexual marriage'. While people who believe these things probably think it’s true, it obviously isn’t the case. It is a reductionist approach to sex and gender, which is just as wrong.

The arguments that Rowling is espousing aren’t original. They are classic ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist’ (TERF) talking points, ripped from the pages of a Germaine Greer or Sheila Jeffreys Op-ed.

They are classic ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist’ (TERF) talking points, ripped from the pages of a Germaine Greer or Sheila Jeffreys Op-ed.

They are also so indicative of a privileged, white-centric Anglo feminism that is both entitled, and oblivious to its own ways of silencing and marginalising the voices of women of colour, people living with disability, queer women and sex workers.

TERFs argue that only women who are born with female reproductive organs are allowed to identify as women and to get access to any of the few benefits that womanhood might offer, such as being accepted as a woman by others, being able to enter women's-only spaces or to use the bathroom without harassment or suspicion from other women. Following this logic through implies that transgender women are not, by definition, 'real women' and have no right to be treated the same as cisgender women.

It's not a progressive stance to take - it's regressive. It's going back to saying that women are defined by their biology, after all. Defined by the possession of a certain type of reproductive organ. Good god. Maybe they should get back in the kitchen too? And in doing so, she’s denying an entire category of people the right to bodily autonomy. ‘My body, my choice’ - right, J.K.?

And then there is the fact that it's not accurate to equate being a woman with sex.

And then there is the fact that it's not accurate to equate being a woman with sex. In reality, biological sex, gender identity and gender expression are all pieces of a wonderfully layered and complex puzzle. Many people these days wouldn’t identify with the traditional, stereotypical definitions of the gender they identify with.

Lots of people have levels of intersex variation without even knowing about it. And then there are transgender people. There are people who are born with male reproductive organs who know from an early age without any doubt whatsoever that they identify as a woman. There are people who are born with female reproductive organs who know from day dot that they are not female gendered. There are people who never ever feel like they belong in any of the gender options available to them. This is because the truth is that gender and sex are independent variables.

Faced with an option to broaden the definition of womanhood ever so slightly to include transgender women for the sake of equity, a very small sub-section of white, cisgender feminists have effectively said 'you can't sit with us'.

Faced with an option to broaden the definition of womanhood ever so slightly to include transgender women for the sake of equity, a very small sub-section of white, cisgender feminists have effectively said 'you can't sit with us'.

They have said this because they are unable to accept that society has moved forwards and so has mainstream feminism. They are often the same feminists who rail futilely against pornography and who slander or ostracise sex workers. They often incorrectly conflate professional sex work with human sex trafficking to de-legitimise sex workers’ right to exist. TERFs' sense of their own identity and importance to the future of the feminist movement is indeed under threat - not from transgender women - but from their own inability to reflect and to change with the times.

I have little hope that J.K. Rowling will see the light. The fact that a famous author, who enjoys a certain level of privileged access to children’s hearts and minds, is capable of tweeting lines which echo this kind of anti-trans narrative, is nauseating. Somewhere out there a transgender child is reading a book written by an author who wants to put conditions around how they are included in the community they identify with. That J.K. Rowling likely genuinely believes what she is saying, is not a comfort at all.

But fortunately - as the reaction against her stance on Twitter shows - she and her trans-exclusionary friends appear to be on the wrong side of history. Power to the people.

Author bio: Travis Hunter is a transmasculine-identified writer living on Ngunnawal country. More of his writing can be found here.

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