Most authors would undoubtedly be satisfied with the legacy of Harry Potter: hundreds of millions of books sold, a film franchise, untold riches – and a place in the hearts and minds of children for generations to come. But after creating the fantasy of Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling did something even greater; she stood up for reality in a world where many do not seem to understand the difference between fact and fiction.
Rowling’s views on gender have been divisive – but the author insists in a forthcoming podcast, The Witch Trials of JK Rowling, which starts next week*, that she has been misunderstood by fans who ‘feel that she has let them down in discussions about gender’. As the transgender debate becomes ever more febrile, it is perhaps worth reflecting on what she has actually said.
Rowling first came to the attention of the transgender thought police in March 2018 when she ‘liked’ what her detractors saw as the wrong sort of tweet. The following summer, she had the audacity to follow the wrong sort of woman online: Magdalen Berns, a co-founder of For Women Scotland, who was dying of brain cancer at the age of 36.
But the witch hunt started in earnest in December 2019. That was when Rowling came out in support of Maya Forstater, a researcher who lost her job at a think tank after sending tweets saying people cannot change their biological sex.
Rowling was right about what was unfolding in the gender debate: it wasn’t a drill – the issue was urgent and serious. Across society, reality was being eclipsed by fantasy.
Back in 2018, Rowling’s representative blamed a ‘clumsy and middle-aged moment’ for liking that tweet that referred to transgender women as ‘men in dresses’. But a year on, when the Forstater case hit the headlines, there was no going back. Those of us who know that wishful thinking is no basis for law and policy heaved a sigh of relief. Rowling, the author of fantasy, became the champion of reality; she also became a lightning rod for hate.
But Rowling wasn’t put off by the reaction. In July 2020, as the UK emerged from the first lockdown, she published her reasons for speaking out on sex and gender issues. Anyone under the misapprehension that Rowling is anything other than a compassionate woman who cares about both women’s rights and trans rights, needs to ignore the ranting from baying mob and read what Rowling actually said:
‘I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of colour, are at particular risk. Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.’JK Rowling
As a transsexual, I know who I trust to look out for my rights: not the fantasists who think transwomen are women, but those who understand the truth, no matter how inconvenient it might be. Transwomen are not women; we are the opposite sex to women. But, crucially, we do not need to be women in order to be protected and respected in society. Rowling gets that. She is also willing to say it out loud and not be cowed by the mob. For that I am grateful.
In a 90-second trailer to the podcast, Rowling pointed out that she had never set out to upset anyone:
‘What has interested me over the last ten years, and certainly the last two or three years, particularly on social media [is the view that] ‘You’ve ruined your legacy’ . . . ‘You could have been beloved forever but you chose to say this’. And I think, ‘You could not have misunderstood me more profoundly’.’JK Rowling
Rowling doesn’t elaborate in the trailer but, in my mind, she doesn’t need to. Given the choice between a legacy for creating Harry Potter, or a legacy for defending some of the most vulnerable people in the real world, there really is no contest.
As Rowling wrote in her essay:
‘It would be so much easier to tweet the approved hashtags – because of course trans rights are human rights and of course trans lives matter – scoop up the woke cookies and bask in a virtue-signalling afterglow. There’s joy, relief and safety in conformity.’JK Rowling
But conformity to a falsehood – that deep down we all know is wrong – can never bring that satisfaction of doing the right thing, and knowing that you have done the right thing. To many of us there is no need to choose between legacies. We admire Rowling for both her literary genius and her moral courage.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.
* This article was first published by The Spectator on 18 February 2023: JK Rowling is no transphobe – and I should know.
4 replies on “JK Rowling is no transphobe – and I should know”
I have never read a Rowling book, and yet I adore the woman simply for standing up for what is true.
Trans people have the same rights that we all have, rights which I define as:
* Freedom from discrimination in education, employment, medicine, housing and public accommodations.
* Access to government benefits, such as welfare (when they qualify) and police protection.
* Freedom of speech and expression.
(I’m sure we all have more rights than that, but I can’t think of them now.)
But they are demanding so much more than that. Indeed, for the smallest minority in the world, they are demanding the most rights of any group:
* To right to redefine what “gender” is for the whole human race, and to ignore science in the process.
* To be seen as experts on all issues relating to gender.
* To influence children in the way they are reared and educated.
* To move into women’s sports and other of women’s private spaces.
* To be addressed with special pronouns.
* To be spoken about using a special vocabulary.
One-half percent of the population is trying to redefine reality for the rest of us, and in the process a lot of people are being harmed, especially children.
If trans people would just accept the natural rights that we all enjoy, there would be no problem. But because of this grab for power and influence, it is becoming harder and harder for me to feel sympathy for them. As a liberal, my natural instinct would be to feel sympathy.
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To right to redefine = The right to redefine
I agree, Caleb, although I suggest it might be better not to use “trans people” as the object of these valid complaints, since they’re not all the same, and I’m sure some aren’t demanding any extra rights or trying to grab power. I think a great many of them are victims of the propaganda and their own unfortunate susceptibility to flawed thinking about themselves, often due to childhood trauma. They already suffer from a number of psychological difficulties, especially ADD or autism, they’re maturing in our crazy world, and they become convinced that gender mismatch in them is the cause. These are deserving of our sympathy, and the reason the fight for reality is important.
I, personally, also try to maintain sympathy for the trans activists, although they certainly deserve strong criticism, because (at least some of them) are also victims of the propaganda, and have drifted into activism, or suddenly been converted to being evangelists, also because they’re not logical or scientific in their thinking. Even some (many?) clinicians may think they’re doing the right thing with their biased “affirmative care”.
I imagine it is a small number who know it’s largely a pile of fakery. Some will be raking it in. Others will feel incapable of back-pedalling on something they’ve shouted about, and some clinicians are in the process of waking up to the abuse, but still feel massive pressure to toe the line or risk losing their job (we know, because some report doing that). Hopefully, they can emerge from the trap, but the job market is a seriously rocky landscape, especially if you’ve got kids to educate, a mortgage, or other debts, and especially in the USA where most of this issue is behind the curve.
I suspect most of the causes of this phenomenon can be traced to hyper-capitalism, actually – the damaging upbringing young people have had, the fight for novel things to turn into a subject in universities, and the addiction to profits in the medical industry.
This isn’t meant as a criticism of your points so much as, hopefully, inspiration to keep the faith in humanity, including in “trans people.”
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You have more sympathy than I have. But you are right, I shouldn’t see trans people as a monolithic group. Part of my attitude stems from the number of gay people who have swallowed all of the transgender bullshit. Based on what I’ve read and seen, probably every gay bar in the U.S. is crowded with trans and “non-binary” people. Every gay organization is now more trans than gay. Trans people have taken away my gay community, and I feel robbed, and that makes me angry.
However, a lot of trans people have taken up the bad ideas being pushed by the activists, and to the extent they have, it’s hard for me to like them.
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