The problem with JK Rowling and her transgender views

You may have seen that beloved Harry Potter author JK Rowling has been in the headlines of late due to her stance on transgender issues.

But what exactly are her views – and why have they kicked up so much controversy? We dive in below.

jk rowling, transphobic, terf

JK Rowling has received widespread backlash of late for her stance on transgender people. Here’s why she’s caused so much fuss.

Back in 2019, Rowling first came under fire after publicly expressing her support for researcher Maya Forstater, who had been fired from her job for espousing “gender critical” opinions – namely that “it is impossible to change sex”:

Forstater was fired for discrimination, and a London employment tribunal later supported the decision, stating that Forstater’s views were not protected by British law, and further, they were “incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others.”

Her story received widespread media attention across the UK, and about a month after the ruling, Rowling took to Twitter to stand up for Forstater, claiming “Call yourself whatever you like…but force women out of their jobs for stating sex is real?”:

The story was then propelled into the global consciousness, and Rowling received a large degree of backlash, particularly from LGBTQI+ advocacy groups. The author was branded by many as a transgender exclusionary radical feminist (TERF), a term which, put simply, refers to a feminist who does not include transgender people in their definition of women.

Incidentally, this wasn’t the first time that people had been suspicious of Rowling’s stance, with the author being criticised back in 2018 for liking a tweet which referred to transgender people as “men in dresses” – a move which her reps later claimed was an accident.

Fast forward to June 2020, and Rowling took to Twitter to express similar views, this time retweeting an article which referred to women as “people who menstruate.” Jokingly, Rowling wrote, “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

After receiving more backlash, Rowling posted a series of tweets backing up her claims, arguing that “it isn’t hate to speak the truth.”

The whole argument comes down to one key point: TERFs believe that gender identity (a person’s sense of their gender) and biological sex (the label a person is given at birth based their anatomy) are the same things. They worry that the concept of biological sex is being eroded; an occurrence which would ultimately dilute the fight for gender equality that women have waged throughout history. It’s a concept known as “female erasure“.

The thing is, for decades, experts have believed that anatomy does not determine gender – in other words, gender identity and biological sex are not necessarily the same thing. This is the view that trans activists take, and ultimately, they believe that it is gender identity – rather than biological sex – that should be given priority in terms of law-making.

Incidentally, science has revealed that the traditional notion of biological sex being binary is also a fallacy. One example of this is the 2% of the population that are born intersex (or with genitals that don’t fit the male/female binary). Two percent is actually quite a significant amount of the population, the same amount of people, for instance, who have green eyes. Currently, those who are born intersex go through sex reassignment surgeries at birth. However, this decades-old practice actually has zero health benefits, and intersex activists are now drawing attention to the ethical issues inherent in the practice.

This is just one example that points to the fact that, when it comes to biological sex, there is a need for society to embrace more nuanced understandings of the concept.

Rowling has always maintained that she is sympathetic to trans rights, however, her comments perpetuate the discrimination that trans people, as a minority group, have faced throughout history. Even more hurtful is the fact that her most recent comments were made during Pride Month and at a point in history when people around the world are fighting so hard for progress for the trans community, rather than setbacks.

Following Rowling’s most recent comments, numerous Harry Potter stars have come out in opposition of her views, including Daniel Radcliffe, who wrote a letter in support of trans and non-binary people. Amidst a viral wave of dismayed Harry Potter fans vowing to disown the famed book series, Rowling published her own essay clarifying her views. In the essay, Rowling revealed for the first time her own experiences of domestic abuse and sexual assault and argued that her views arose from her concerns about women’s safety, directly related to her own experiences.

Sadly, many of the people who once sought comfort in the world of Harry Potter, have now as an adult found themselves hurt by the comments Rowling has made.

JK Rowling’s stance rests on the idea that one group’s fight for equality must necessarily threaten another’s. But surely, in 2020, we should be striving to eliminate all discrimination, and willing to embrace – rather than be challenged by – any complexities this process may entail. At the end of the day, as two groups striving for equality, there is no reason that feminists and trans activists shouldn’t be on the same side.