J.K. Rowling Defends Her Stand On Transgender Issues, Reveals A Past Of Domestic Abuse
"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," she says
A thousand hearts broke when the controversy first landed headlines in December last year.
Could it be true? That the best-selling international author (of the Harry Potter series), whose most famous body of work that taught millions of children to choose love above all and celebrate differences, is a hypocrite? How could it be? That the J.K Rowling, hero to young and adult readers like, was actually a closet transphobe?
Or at least, that's what the 54-year-old writer's harshest critics claimed her to be.
Now in case you missed the finer details of that tragic year-ender, here's a little refresher, and the background story behind J.K.'s most recent assertion of her stand on controversial transgender issues.
As she was gathering research for a new book she's currently working on, whose character is someone she described as someone who would be interested in and affected by the issues of real-life members of the LGBTQIA+ community, she took to Twitter, found a tweet she felt was helpful, and liked it. (And according to her, it was an absentminded move as she usually takes screenshots of material she uses as references, rather than "like" or "heart" them).
Eagle-eyed Twitter users were quick to catch the like, but even quicker to spin their own interpretations of what it meant.
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Warner Bros. issued a statement in response to the recent controversy about “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s anti-trans tweets. “The events in the last several weeks have firmed our resolve as a company to confront difficult societal issues. Warner Bros.’ position on inclusiveness is well established, and fostering a diverse and inclusive culture has never been more important to our company and to our audiences around the world,” the company said in a statement. “We deeply value the work of our storytellers who give so much of themselves in sharing their creations with us all. We recognize our responsibility to foster empathy and advocate understanding of all communities and all people, particularly those we work with and those we reach through our content.” #jkrowling #notransphobia #warnerbros
The tweet in question was one posted by researcher Maya Forstater (a woman who has a story worth reading). She questioned the right of trans women to be seen as women despite being born male, and later on continued to defend her stance even as the issue was raised to court. (Maya lost her case, and was unconditionally labeled as an enemy of the trans community by the Internet and beyond).
It then becomes crystal clear how easily reacting positively to a tweet with that message can trigger an avalanche of criticism and questioning.
J.K. had both critics nipping at her heels and supporters rushing to her side, but those who turned their backs on her (and felt that she had turned her back on them first), mostly sang to the same tune: that their beloved heroine had betrayed them and was everything that her legacy was not.
Someone even said that she was Lord Voldemort himself.
She defended her in her own way and admitted that she shared unpopular opinions on the topic, constantly reminding everyone that she was not anti-trans, but instead took issue with the radical groups and individuals exerting trans rights while alienating those of others. It was a terrible time for everyone, but like all explosive issues born out from social media, this, too, died down—only to resurrect on June 6, six months after the initial controversy.
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Standing up for women, as in biological females, is not bigotry/ Stating that biological sex is real is not “transphobia”/ Sending threats to a woman for speaking up on behalf of the rights of women and girls WILL NEVER BE PROGRESSIVE. Link in Bio. #jkrowling #istandwithjkrowling
Twitter was again the battlefield, and this time, it was because she reacted to an opinion piece titled "Creating a More Equal Post-COVID-19 World for People Who Menstruate." The writeup's author included trans men, i.e.: individuals who were born as biological women but transitioned to become men, yet still retained the ability to menstruate.
J.K. disagreed with how trans men should be included in this discussion, and like her opinions on the issue did the first time she shared them, they set her up for a burning at the stake once again.
‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate https://t.co/cVpZxG7gaA
The calling out and "cancelling" (Internet speech for erasing someone from our collective consciousness and stripping them off all admiration to punish them for their sins) that followed was relentless.
It had reached a fever pitch (no longer was she accused of being a fictional dark lord, but death threats, and very real ones at that, replaced name calling and expletives thrown at her). And even the actors who brought the beloved characters of the Harry Potter series to life had spoken up, albeit not directly addressing J.K., but making sure to express views that were the complete opposite of hers. (Daniel Radcliffe posted a rare social media message to show his subtle opposition, while Emma Watson was clear in expressing her ally-ship with the trans community and Eddie Redmayne also got vocal).
All of this unfolded in the span of less than a week.
And finally, that brings us to today, where J.K.'s three thousand-plus word essay published on her official website on June 10 has been making rounds online and sparking a mixed bag of opinions. It was her ultimate response to this terrible mess, and it revealed something about her past that she had never thought was necessary to share before, until now.
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“Harry Potter” author JK Rowling revealed on Wednesday she is a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The celebrated British writer said in a blog post that she was disclosing the information to give context to her controversial past comments about transgender women. “This isn’t an easy piece to write,” Rowling said in a 3,695-word essay on gender identity and her own troubled past. “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 wrote. “This isn’t because I’m ashamed those things happened to me, but because they’re traumatic to revisit and remember.” Rowling caused a scandal by tweeting last weekend about “people who menstruate”. “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” The tweet forced “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe to apologise to trans women who may have been offended by Rowling’s remark. “Transgender women are women,” Radcliffe wrote in a post for The Trevor Project website. The feud dated back to comments from December in which Rowling expressed support for a woman who had lost her job over what her employer deemed to be “transphobic” tweets. Rowling said on Wednesday that “accusations and threats from trans activists have been bubbling in my Twitter timeline” ever since. “Huge numbers of women are justifiably terrified by the trans activists; I know this because so many have got in touch with me to tell their stories,” she wrote. Rowling ended her post by affirming that she was “a survivor (and) certainly not a victim”. “I haven’t written this essay in the hope that anybody will get out a violin for me, not even a teeny-weeny one,” she said. “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."
The essay provides five reasons for her off-trend views on trans rights and the trans activists whose mission is to fight for them.
All five are food for thought; however, it is the last and final reason that is most surprising.
J.K. detailed her past of domestic abuse at the hands of her first husband and how the trauma, fear, and physical and emotional injuries inflicted on her during their 13-month marriage have helped shape her views on womanhood, gender rights, and related issues.
"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," she writes.
She positions her argument around a recent development in gender recognition law in Scotland that will easily allow a man to be identified as a woman, and all he needs to do is to say that he is a woman in order for this to take effect.
She recognizes that there are obvious pros and cons of a law like this (and not only this law, but similar legislature and privileges granted to trans individuals in other parts of the world, to varying degrees). It's a good thing, obviously, because it allows people to fully express this part of their identities without having to "prove" to courts, medical examiners, and lawyers that they are indeed a woman (or a man). But it can be a bad thing, too, if a man with ill intentions finds his way to what would have been a female-only space, and turns it into a ripe hunting ground for exploitation, harassment, or abuse.
She acknowledges that biologically born women and trans women are vulnerable to a situation like this. "So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. 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 hormone–then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth," she continues.
Her experience of abuse has taught her that even in seemingly safe spaces populated by people who should be harmless (or even keeping you safe from harm, as was the case of her husband). She believes that it is only right that these single-sex spaces, and the underlying rights and privileges that are behind them and other such places, should be approached with caution.
She is against those who aggressively fight for trans rights without first giving this part of the argument some thought.
"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. I stand alongside the brave women and men, gay, straight and trans, who’re standing up for freedom of speech and thought, and for the rights and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society: young gay kids, fragile teenagers, and women who’re reliant on and wish to retain their single sex spaces," she declares.
Now it wasn't sympathy that J.K. was aiming for, but the understanding that she is but human, too, with a multi-faceted backstory that has shaped her world view and opinions.
No doubt that it's a complicated issue given even more layers by this revelation of J.K. Rowling.
Whether or not those who have "cancelled" her will change their minds or take a softer stance towards her after this, only time will tell.
Photo from J.K. Rowling's official Facebook page