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J.K. Rowling Defends Speaking Out on Trans Issues

The 'Harry Potter' author affirmed her support for 'single-sex spaces,' invoking her own experience with sexual assault.

J.K. Rowling
Jonathan Hordle/Shutterstock

Amid a growing storm of protest over J.K. Rowling’s recent tweets about transgender people, the “Harry Potter” author posted a 3,600 word essay to her website on Wednesday defending her decision to speak out on trans issues.

In the lengthy piece, Rowling also discusses her “first violent marriage,” and that she is “a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor.”

“I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy, but out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces,” Rowling writes.

Rowling’s decision to defend her views on trans people comes as actors, including Daniel Radcliffe and Eddie Redmayne, in the “Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts” movie series — part of Rowling’s larger Wizarding World creative empire — have spoken out in support of trans rights and in direct opposition to Rowling’s stated beliefs.

GLAAD, the LGBTQ media watchdog organization, responded to Rowling’s essay with a statement late Wednesday:

“It seems J.K. is good at only one thing: writing fantasy. Her misinformed and dangerous missive about transgender people flies in the face of medical and psychological experts and devalues trans people accounts of their own lives. She is sowing divisiveness in a time when real leaders are driving toward unity. And to all the trans and cisgender youth raised on her books who are now loudly speaking up in support of the trans people you know and love, you are the future and we can’t wait to read and watch the beautiful art you will create.”

Separately, in a statement to Variety earlier on Wednesday, GLAAD called on all organizations affiliated with Rowling to publicly denounce her anti-trans views. Universal Parks released their own statement that says in part that the company’s “core values include diversity, inclusion and respect for all our guests, as well as our team members,” but does not mention Rowling or trans issues specifically by name.

Warner Bros. declined to comment on GLAAD’s earlier statement, and did not respond to a request for comment on Rowling’s essay.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement responding directly to Rowling’s new essay.

“The fact that J.K. Rowling is doubling down in using her massive platform to spread anti-trans propaganda while refusing to respond to outreach by LGBTQ groups like the Human Rights Campaign is appalling. As one of the most famous women in the world and one whose work has inspired countless LGBTQ young people to imagine a world of acceptance and inclusivity, she bears an extra responsibility to ensure that her words do not do damage,” HRC president Alphonso David says. “Let me be clear: J.K. Rowling is trafficking in harmful lies at a time when the trans community is facing unspeakable violence. At least twenty-six transgender and gender non-confirming people were killed in 2019. 2020 has already seen at least twelve transgender or gender non-conforming people killed.”

“Trans women are women, and Rowling’s attempt to hide behind the mantle of trans-exclusive feminism hurts both the trans and feminist communities. Rowling’s words are inflicting harm on the transgender and non-binary community, who are already among the world’s most marginalized and endgangered populations. If she won’t listen to trans advocates about the harm she is causing, she does not deserve her platform.”

“As many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume. ‘Woman’ is not an idea in a man’s head.”
J.K. Rowling

In the first part of her essay, Rowling details how she initially became interested in trans issues, and how it led her to speak out in support of Maya Forstater, who lost her job in the UK as a tax expert at the Centre for Global Development over tweets that expressed her view that “men cannot change into women.”

Rowling’s interest, she says, was in part as research for her Cormoran Strike crime novels, which she writes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Rowling says that during the course of her research, as she was taking screenshots of “comments that interested me” on the topic, she “absent-mindedly ‘liked'” a tweet, an action Rowling says was “deemed evidence of wrongthink, and a persistent low level of harassment began.”

Rowling does not mention that the tweet in question referred to transgender women as “men in dresses,” nor that when asked at the time about liking the tweet, Rowling’s publicist said it was “a clumsy and middle-aged moment” and that it wasn’t the first time Rowling had liked a tweet “by holding her phone incorrectly.”

In her essay, the author says she decided to follow the Twitter account of Magdalen Burns — the late lesbian feminist known for a series of YouTube videos in which she regularly spoke out on her believe that “trans women are men” — because she wanted to contact Burns directly.

“However, as Magdalen was a great believer in the importance of biological sex, and didn’t believe lesbians should be called bigots for not dating trans women with penises, dots were joined in the heads of twitter trans activists, and the level of social media abuse increased,” Rowling writes.

When Rowling later decided to publicly support Forstater, especially after a judgment that deemed her tweets were not protected and she could be fired, she says she expected to be attacked for the decision. But she also says that she received an “avalanche of emails and letters” expressing support, including from people “in field dealing with gender dysphoria and trans people, who’re all deeply concerned about the way a socio-political concept is influencing politics, medical practice and safeguarding.”

Along with her belief in the freedom of speech, Rowling says those concerns about what she sees as the political ramifications of trans activism were among the major factors that led to her decision to continue to speak out about trans issues over the last week.

Rowling says that trans activism could “erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender,” which she says would have a “significant impact” on the women’s causes she supports, including for female prisoners, and survivors of sexual and domestic abuse.

Also, as a former teacher and the founder of the children’s charity Lumos, Rowling says she has “deep concerns” about how what she sees as a rush to transition is affecting young people. Without linking to or referencing specific research to support her claim, Rowling says there is a “huge explosion” in both young women wishing to transition to men, and in the “increasing numbers” of trans people “who seem to be detransitioning (returning to their original sex).”

The 54-year-old author further says that she’s wondered if she had been born 30 years later, she might have “tried to transition.”

“The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge,” Rowling says. “I struggled with severe OCD as a teenager. If I’d found community and sympathy online that I couldn’t find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred.”

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Author J.K. Rowling attends the “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” Broadway opening on April 22, 2018 Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutte

Rowling says she understands that “transition will be a solution for some gender dysphoric people.” But she repeatedly makes claims and quotes research without citing a direct source, and often in a misleading fashion, like that “60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria” — even though that research comes from studies that have been called “very flawed” by other researchers.

Rowling also claims that a U.K. citizen born biologically male can file a “Gender Recognition Certificate” and “be a woman in the sight of the law” — even if the applicant intends “to have no surgery and take no hormones.”

But according to official government materials, applicants for the Gender Recognition Certificate must be 18 or over, diagnosed with gender dysphoria, lived in their “acquired gender for at least 2 years,” and “intend to live in your acquired gender for the rest of your life.” Further, applicants “must provide medical evidence” of their gender dysphoria diagnosis from a registered doctor or psychologist.

At its heart, Rowling’s argument is that womanhood is rooted in biological sex, and it is immutable.

“As many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume,” she says. “‘Woman’ is not an idea in a man’s head. ‘Woman’ is not a pink brain, a liking for Jimmy Choos or any of the other sexist ideas now somehow touted as progressive. Moreover, the ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning. I understand why trans activists consider this language to be appropriate and kind, but for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating.”

That argument leads Rowling to the final reason she says she’s “deeply concerned about the consequences of the current trans activism”: Creating safe spaces for women separate from men, which Rowling says stem directly from her experiences with her first husband.

“I’ve been in the public eye now for over twenty years and have never talked publicly about being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor,” Rowling writes. She says she hasn’t discussed her sexual assault before out of concern and deference to her daughter from her first marriage, but she recently gave Rowling her blessing to do so.

Rowling says she has “solidarity and kinship” with “a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man,” and that she shares “a visceral sense of the terror in which those trans women will have spent their last seconds on earth.” Rowling says she believes “the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlines.” She says she believes trans people “deserve protection,” and that “trans women of colour are at particular risk.”

“I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it.”
J.K. Rowling

But while Rowling says she wants “trans women to be safe,” she places that safety in rhetorical opposition to the safety of cisgender (or, in Rowling’s words, “natal”) girls and women, and restates her misleading belief that any man can be granted the status of a woman in the U.K.

“When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman — and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones — then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside,” she says. “That is the simple truth.”

Rowling says that she was “triggered” by news on June 6 that the Scottish government “is proceeding with its controversial gender recognition plans, which will in effect mean that all a man needs to ‘become a woman’ is to say he’s one.” Between that news and what she says were “relentless attacks from trans activists on social media,” Rowling says she went to a “very dark place” for much of the day as memories of a “serious sexual assault I suffered in my twenties recurred on a loop.”

“I couldn’t shut out those memories and I was finding it hard to contain my anger and disappointment about the way I believe my government is playing fast and loose with womens and girls’ safety,” Rowling says.

In that space, Rowling says she posted her tweets about trans issues.

But although those tweets brought even more confusion, hurt, and condemnation from Rowling’s millions of fans, she makes clear she is undeterred.

“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,” she says. “But endlessly unpleasant as its constant targeting of me has been, I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it.”

Manori Ravindran contributed to this report.