When J.K. Rowling hit ‘send tweet’ late last week, it is hard to imagine she anticipated a response so volatile to her opinions on transgender identity. The story has been widespread for the past few days, as members of the ‘Harry Potter’ community join in the conversation, following Rowling’s controversial tweets. I’m sure most readers are familiar with the story in its entirety, but for those who aren’t; Rowling responded to an opinion piece that utilized ‘people who menstruate’ in lieu of ‘women’ – something she disagreed with. Rowling stipulated that ‘confusing’ concepts of sex and gender erases the female experience. Naturally, many in the fanbase were left feeling let down by the author.
After the story went viral, many cast members of the popular adaptations spoke out about their own feelings on the matter, with most disagreeing, but still showing some form of solidarity with Rowling. Today, Rowling published a lengthy open letter on her website, addressing the situation, and further clarifying her opinion.
Much of the letter focuses on backlash the author has experienced throughout the past few months, such as in response to her support of Maya Forstater: “I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets.” Rowling says this occurred during her research on gender identity and trans experience, and that it was one of many instances where Twitter activity resulted in large-scale condemnation. “I mention all this only to explain that I knew perfectly well what was going to happen when I supported Maya. I must have been on my fourth or fifth cancellation by then.”
Rowling puts a particular emphasis on the perceived cruelty and viciousness of responses she has received, from death threats, to “cancellation”, and more. Having been called many different, and some crude, names, Rowling says that although “accusations of TERFery” have been enough to intimidate other individuals and organisations, she lists five reasons why she felt she must speak up. In short, these reasons vary from her charity work, and its potential disruption from the blurring of biological sex, to her own harrowing experience as a survivor of domestic and sexual abuse.
Additionally, she voices a concern for those who transition, only to later regret or reverse this decision. Aided by alleged statistics and scientific claims, Rowling fears that current attitudes towards trans identity cause more harm than good. The author worries that erasing female-only spaces 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,” this will only put more women at risk of attack.
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. So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe.
The letter closes on Rowling’s iteration that she has not written it in the hopes of amassing sympathy, but rather to give her opinions context and background.
I haven’t written this essay in the hope that anybody will get out a violin for me, not even a teeny-weeny one. I’m extraordinarily fortunate; I’m a survivor, certainly not a victim. I’ve only mentioned my past because, like every other human being on this planet, I have a complex backstory, which shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions. I never forget that inner complexity when I’m creating a fictional character and I certainly never forget it when it comes to trans people.
All I’m asking – all I want – is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 10, 2020
The letter is worth reading in its entirety, since much of her argument – and the conversation as a whole- is very nuanced. There are a lot of levels to what Rowling shared, from her personal experience, to her reported research, or the particularity of the concerns raised. The open letter may be the end of the Rowling debate, but the conversation will inevitably continue long after the original Twitter thread becomes buried under the avalanche of 2020’s current affairs.