The best-selling author has been vilified for warning about how children struggling with their mental health are being shunted towards hormones and surgery by trans activists. But she is brave and right to speak out.
After last month receiving a barrage of abuse for reclaiming the word ‘woman’ to describe her sex, JK Rowling might have been forgiven for handing the campaigning baton onto others. The transgender debate that she entered is perhaps the most toxic and divisive dispute raging across social media.
But she knew what she was getting into. In a superb 3,700-word essay, she explained why she had spoken out. She had researched the arguments, read the papers, talked to those involved – including a transsexual friend – and wanted no more than women’s concerns to be heard; not to be met with threats and abuse.
Reasoned arguments, however, don’t cut it in a debate that is punctuated by rhetoric and emotion. According to her opponents, women who do not accept the catechism, trans women are women, are evil terfs who must be cancelled.
‘Terf’ was once an acronym that stood for ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist’. But it has become a slur applied to any woman who has the audacity to stand up for her sex-based rights, and applied with a ferocity akin to the antics of witchfinders in the middle ages.
While startled bystanders might perceive a stand-off between a trans lobby asserting that trans women are women, and women who don’t believe that trans women can be any sort of women, the battle below the surface is fundamental: a clash between reason and rhetoric.
I might be a trans woman, but in this debate, I am on the side of reason, and therefore stand with Rowling.
As actors who her books made famous lined up to distance themselves from her, someone with less integrity might have backed down. But Rowling doubled down, to the relief of those of us who stood by her. Gillian Philip, for example, another author who suffered cancellation for adding the tag #IstandwithJKRowling to her Twitter handle. After receiving sexualised abuse and death threats from the trans lobby, she tweeted “Bring it on, homophobes and lesbian-haters.” For that she was fired by her employer.
How this trans lobby became so powerful that it can have people sacked is frightening, but even more alarming is the impact on policy. As gender has replaced sex across the English-speaking world, this bunch of activists has substituted gender identity in place of sex as the means of dividing humanity.
Never mind the truth – we did not create sex, sex created us – in their minds, and the legislation they have influenced, psychology trumps biology. If that means we can choose whether we are men or women, we can effectively choose our sex.
The vulnerable then suffer. Women’s sex-based rights become meaningless if any man can identify himself into them. It would be naïve at best to assume that men wouldn’t do that, wouldn’t it?
But on Sunday afternoon, Rowling turned her attention to a group arguably more vulnerable than women. In a courageous thread of tweets, she called out the impact on children: “Many health professionals are concerned that young people struggling with their mental health are being shunted towards hormones and surgery when this may not be in their best interests.”
Here I stand solidly alongside her. I may be a trans woman, but I am also a parent and I am a teacher. I work with young people every day; to me the safeguarding of children is paramount.
Many children find puberty difficult, but never before has the world offered them the choice to delay it, or even choose a different puberty to the one their bodies were designed for. Young people not yet deemed old enough to consent to a tattoo are being placed in an invidious position. They are told they can choose their sex, with dark undertones that unless they choose wisely, their lives may be ruined.
I did transition, but as an adult when I had the maturity to give informed consent to treatment that left me sterile. In my own case, however, a vasectomy had already addressed my fertility when my own family was completed. Forcing children to make these decisions before they experience the puberty that will bring them to sexual maturity is in my view child abuse.
The path they are put on is – as Rowling herself reported – an unregulated live experiment on children, and one driven in some cases by homophobic parents uncomfortable with their gender non-conforming children.
This potential child abuse scandal is at the heart of this debate. As political leaders shy away from the inconvenient truth – we are male or female according to our biology that was observed at birth – Rowling has stood up for the most vulnerable. First for her sex and then for children.
While she should be applauded for her courage, the reaction has been somewhat different. Misogyny is as old as society, but trans rights gives it new licence to oppress women who dare to speak. Meanwhile, the reasonable majority stay quiet, afraid of what might happen to them should they then upset the mob.
The time has come to grasp this nettle. Rowling’s intervention over the past month has been remarkable, but the protection of the weak should not be left to individuals, no matter how brave or how famous they are. Those of us who agree with Rowling need to respond by standing with her, and calling out this outrage once and for all.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner, based in the UK.
* This article was first published by RT.com on 7 July 2020: As a trans woman, parent and teacher, I say JK Rowling is absolutely right; it’s child abuse to push kids towards changing sex