The crux of the trans exclusionary movement and argument rests upon the idea that trans women are a threat to cisgender women’s safety and that, by allowing us to exist in public spaces and allowing us to participate in society, we are taking away from the rights of other women.
I’m no stranger to this argument. The first time I heard it was when I was in middle school. A news article had circulated about my using the girls’ bathroom at my school in Orono, Maine. There was a girl, probably a grade or two older than me, who said she would be afraid of being in the same changing room as me because “they’re going to look at me while I’m changing.”
This didn’t make sense to my middle school brain — my first reaction was, “When would I ever be in the changing room at the same time? We’re not even in the same class.” But I had heard around town that a lot of people didn’t want me using the girls’ bathroom because they thought I was a threat to the other girls.
And while I would have been permitted to go on a whitewater rafting trip with my school’s Outing Club, I wouldn’t have been allowed to stay in a tent with my girl friends. As a sixth grader, it was heartbreaking to know that I was singled out because people thought that I was some dangerous predator.
In her essay doubling down on her transphobic comments, J.K. Rowling writes, “When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman… then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.”
There are so many things in that to unpack. Firstly, it is not the truth, and it is not simple. She is, I think, attempting to look at this in a very one-sided, absolute way, and you can’t look at sex and gender in terms of absolutes.
At the very core of this argument is fear-mongering. It’s taking an outdated ideology and turning it into an issue that we have convinced ourselves is so prevalent, that we cannot allow certain humans to exist in the same spaces as us. And it’s a complete non-issue: in the 20 states and roughly 200 cities that have gender-inclusive policies, you’ll find there is no increased negative impact on public safety by allowing trans people to use the facilities that correspond to their gender identity.
I think it’s funny in her essay that she also brings up an “echo chamber,” because I think that that’s exactly where and how this mindset thrives, and how these ideologies have stayed so strong for all of these years, because it’s people who claim to be experts and people who claim to have done their research, just feeding off of each other. I thought it was surprising that she said she’d been doing all of this research and talking to psychiatrists and members of the community. One, I’d love to see the receipts. Two, I think that she has been conducting research in a fairly biased way because I have gathered that the vast majority of the medical world disagrees with her line of thinking.
Something else that Rowling mentioned in her essay was that a person could change their birth certificate without having to undergo sex or hormone therapy — so now just anybody can walk into a gender-specific bathroom. That is untrue.
I had to undergo years of therapy and counseling before I was allowed to change my gender marker on my ID. I procured two letters of recommendation by two different psychologists. I was questioned by everybody else in my life about whether or not I knew myself as well as I said that I did. Nobody undergoes all of that questioning, all of that prodding into their identity to go into the bathroom to have a complete stranger, say, “Hey, you can’t be in here. You’re just somebody who decided you want to be a girl one day.”
No, I did not just “decide” it: I’ve had to prove myself and reinforce my identity to strangers and other people in my family and psychiatrists and friends and peers and colleagues and my community, over and over and over again.
But I am someone who did decide to medically transition. Not everyone does. There are a million and one reasons why a transgender person may not want to pursue a medical transition and exactly none of them are anyone’s business but their own. This all goes back to bodily autonomy. Nobody — cis, trans, man, or woman — owes their body to anybody else. Transgender people should not and must not be required to alter their body in order to be deemed acceptable. I mean, is this not the same thing women have been fighting against for decades? The pressure to change ourselves and our bodies to please other people? This is just another set of unreasonable beauty standards. And it hurts all of us.
When North Carolina adopted HB2, the anti-trans “bathroom bill,” and began policing who could and could not enter women’s restrooms, it was actually cisgender women who were being denied entry — women who did not conform to societal standards of femininity and beauty. Policing how women look and what we can and cannot do with our bodies is bad news for all of us, cis or trans.
What makes all of this so heartbreaking and disappointing is that I was — and still am — a “Harry Potter” fan. I’m a Slytherin through and through. It’s heartbreaking to so many LGBTQ fans of the series. These books have helped so many come out and come to terms with their identities. How many young, queer kids fantasize about coming out of the closet and then learning magic? That’s the best case scenario.
Rowling’s comments speak against the very message of her books — about being stronger together, about inclusion, about self-discovery, bravery and triumph over adversity. It’s contradictory to the world that she created.
But I’m still a fan, and I’ll tell you why: because these books and their messages still exist, and whatever views Rowling personally has can’t take that away from us. Nobody can take that away from us, and that world really belongs to the fans now. Nobody can change if these helped you come out. That belongs to you.
I think it’s really important to recognize and talk about that, in a time where we are witnessing a historic change in the fight to end oppression against Black lives, she would choose now to attack trans identities and use her massive platform to take away from that discussion. The trans movement and the Black Lives Matter movement share a similar fight in our battles to be safe in our bodies and in our skin, when other people have determined that we are somehow worthy of being treated as less than. It is exhausting to constantly have to try to explain to people, in simpler and simpler terms, that we are just as deserving of human rights, that we’re just as deserving of feeling as safe as they are. And that is what we should be talking about. J.K. Girl. Read the room.
As told to Audrey Cleo Yap.