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JK Rowling

What JK Rowling can teach Nicola Sturgeon about gender

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act

For transsexuals like me, the Scottish Government’s bill to reform the Gender Recognition Act is a disaster. If passed unamended, the bill would introduce ‘self-identification’, sweeping aside the checks and balances that make the process of changing ones’s gender credible in the minds of the public. 

This is not some minor administrative detail: allowing any man to effectively say he is a woman just because he wants to is an affront to women’s safety and dignity. Women would have no choice but to introduce measures of their own if they want to protect their spaces, groups and associations. Meanwhile the lives of transsexuals like me would become much harder.

Yet both Nicola Sturgeon and Shona Robison – the minister landed with the task of presenting the bill to Holyrood – have their heads buried deep in the sand. One woman who is able to see this proposal for what it is, however, is JK Rowling. As a survivor of abuse, she knows what men can be like:

‘The law Nicola Sturgeon is trying to pass in Scotland will harm the most vulnerable women in society — those seeking help after male violence/rape and incarcerated women. Statistics show that imprisoned women are already far more likely to have been previously abused.’

JK Rowling

Much has been written about the opprobrium Rowling has received for daring to contribute to the debate over sex and gender. But rather less has been said about the support she receives from ordinary women who see her as a hero for speaking up for her sex in the face of so much abuse. Grateful replies flooded in from across the world. But once again, Rowling was also, inevitably, targeted for her mainstream views.

So what is so problematic about this proposal put forward by the Scottish government? It’s hard to know where to start. The bill would remove the medical requirement and panel process for changing one’s gender, allowing trans people instead to self-identify. They would be required to live in their new gender for at least three months to apply for a certificate, which would be granted after a further reflection period. The Scottish bill also proposes lowering the age from 18 to 16, flying in the face of other changes to legislation over the years. Children too young to consent to a tattoo could be able to change gender, before they know how it feels to be an adult. Even if this egregious clause is later withdrawn – perhaps to reach some sort of ‘compromise’ – damage will already be done in the minds of children who have been misled to believe that human beings can easily choose whether they are a man or a woman.

These arguments have been rehearsed many times, of course, and the Westminster Government has listened. There are no plans to dismantle safeguarding protections in the rest of the UK. But Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP – together with the equally reckless Scottish Greens – are on a mission, and they are not listening to reason.

The phrase that ‘in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act’ has rarely been so pertinent as it is in Scotland. Rowling is an unlikely revolutionary, but Sturgeon would be wise to listen to her. Why? Because one thing is clear: a government that cannot protect women and children is not fit to lead an independent Scotland. Perhaps the unintended consequence of this whole sorry debate will be to kick Scottish independence so far into the long grass that it is lost for a generation.


Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.

* This article was first published by The Spectator on 7 March 2022: What JK Rowling can teach Nicola Sturgeon about gender.

By Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

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