It’s four in the morning, as I write now. I really should not have gone on the internet. I have read JK Rowling’s essay, and I feel complete terror, the bottom falling out of my world. So I will start with a memory of safety, of being cradled in support and love. I was bent over, and I remember clearly my tears not just rolling down my face but dripping onto the floor, as I was held and consoled.
In February 2002, I was accepted into membership as a Quaker. I had decided to work towards my transsexual transition in November 2000, and was preparing, talking to friends, trying out going out in public places like supermarkets rather than just the Gay Village around Canal St., Manchester, having hours of electrolysis. That acceptance into membership catalysed something. I had planned to transition- to throw out all my male clothes, change my name, and go into work as Abigail- in September, but I could not bear to wait, and brought it forward to April.
I met a lot of acceptance, from colleagues and clients. I remember telling one client his appeal was successful, on my third day back at work, and this big, life-long labouring man kissed my cheek. But each shouted remark on the street cut me deeper than all the acceptance could salve, because it raised echoes of my own- internalised transphobia, we call it, but my own utter self hatred, my deep belief that my feminine self was weak, sick, perverted, disgusting, ridiculous and deluded. There was a blizzard of them- men laughing, shouting, swearing- “It’s a fucking bloke!” Derision, anger, threat, all of it working on my deep inculcated sense of worthlessness.
In the summer I drove down for a weekend at Woodbrooke with Quakers, and when I stopped for petrol three men, walking ahead of me, turned to stare at me one by one and started laughing. Then on the Sunday morning in worship the misery despair and desperation burst out of me, and I sobbed and dripped, and the arms round me, the caring touch of other humans and their love, gave the strength to go on.
I bring that Love to Rowling’s essay. She’s been threatened with assault and murder, called a cunt and a bitch, or even Voldemort. She really does not feel she deserves this, and I agree. I have enough love in my heart to hear her pain and seek to reach out to her, and find common ground.
JK Rowling writes as if she lives in a world I do not recognise. In that mirror world, vulnerable teenage girls, having difficulty navigating life in a female body, are seduced into imagining transition will solve all their problems, and find they have been wrong and detransition after their bodies and their fertility are irreparably damaged. Brave women standing up for women’s rights (to exclude trans women) are howled down by vicious misogynist men. The Scottish Government (I had forgotten she’s Scots, like me) will introduce a free for all, when any pervert man who wants can enter women’s space. Women are frightened, and the majority of them want these men out.
I could go through the whole, providing a commentary, showing how I see the world. I don’t believe the threatening perverts will bother with gender recognition. But there’s this bit.
Never have I seen women denigrated and dehumanised to the extent they are now. From the leader of the free world’s long history of sexual assault accusations and his proud boast of ‘grabbing them by the pussy’, to the incel (‘involuntarily celibate’) movement that rages against women who won’t give them sex, to the trans activists who declare that TERFs need punching and re-educating, men across the political spectrum seem to agree: women are asking for trouble.
Take out the clause about “trans activists”, and I would be cheering this paragraph, and so would many trans people and trans allies. She’s calling those trans activists (yes, she means trans women) “men”. Later she spreads the myth of the good trans woman, the brave trans people standing up for the “most vulnerable in our society” who she claims are victims of the trans activists.
She’s wrong. Trans people are not a major threat to the safety of women, and nor is the Scottish government’s action to improve trans inclusion and trans rights. But she’s right about the threat from Mr Trump and certain incel groups- mass killers have spouted incel-themed self-pity- from rape culture and threatening, entitled men.
She deserves my love and my listening, because she is a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor. This is traumatic for her to speak about now.
I managed to escape my first violent marriage with some difficulty, but I’m now married to a truly good and principled man, safe and secure in ways I never in a million years expected to be. However, the scars left by violence and sexual assault don’t disappear, no matter how loved you are, and no matter how much money you’ve made. My perennial jumpiness is a family joke – and even I know it’s funny – but I pray my daughters never have the same reasons I do for hating sudden loud noises, or finding people behind me when I haven’t heard them approaching.
This does not give her a free pass to abuse harmless trans people. But she was over a year with that man, chronically unsafe, unable to predict or avoid the rages he blamed her for. She’s not the only trans excluder who has suffered such chronic sexual threat. Not all women survivors of sexual abuse become trans excluders, but many (most or all?) trans excluders are survivors of sexual abuse, and she makes an explicit identification here, writing in “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.”
My love is a tool. I hope with sympathy and understanding to bring such women to the truth, that trans women are not the threat. Hate does no good: she has been won over by “the avalanche of emails and letters that came showering down upon me, the overwhelming majority of which were positive, grateful and supportive. They came from a cross-section of kind, empathetic and intelligent people, some of them working in fields 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.” Trans-excluders, in other words, but trans excluders putting their case in the most winsome way, rather than calling her a cunt.
But my Love is also deserved and needed: no woman should experience that violence, and women who do should be supported, and receive all the care and support I myself have received. If I can’t pass it on to this traumatised woman, do I deserve it myself? She does not want sympathy- she is “a survivor, certainly not a victim”- but deserves allyship around the abuse.
Here, she is wrong.
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. That is the simple truth.
She’s wrong because we don’t begin with surgery. In November 2000 I decided to transition, but before then I was exploring what it was like to go out dressed female, including in women’s loos in Canal St. In Velvet, where the barmaid was trans, a woman queuing for the loo ahead of me wondered if the woman in the cubicle was “a transvestite”. No, she was transsexual. I was “male bodied” entirely. Some would call me male-bodied now, with my Y chromosome, but I had not started on hormones then. If I had had NHS treatment all the way I would not have had hormones until after I went full time at work, possibly not for months. If I had not been in women’s spaces before a male psychiatrist had given me permission, I would not be transitioned now. Some would call me a man, then or even now. I believed I was a woman, but did not have the diagnoses I have received since. I was still trans.
Now, the trans woman is protected by Equality law from the moment she decides to transition. She, male-bodied but probably wanting not to be, is in women’s spaces, and has been for years. The effect of what Rowling demands would be to exclude the most vulnerable trans women, those of us on the cusp of transition, not mythical perverted men who find other ways to abuse women.
Rowling is also wrong about language. The current flare-up, initially on social media, now all over the newspapers, was about a tweet about language.
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.
Well, trans men and nonbinary AFAB people menstruate and get pregnant, and deserve inclusive language. I would say, find better language rather than complain, but I hope others can. Robin Dembroff is working on it.
I don’t know who is calling her a cunt. It could be bots, or Russian troll farms, but there may be some trans women doing it. She knows twitter is toxic, and might even see that tweet about “Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” was ill advised, mocking without argument.
“I spoke up about the importance of sex.” She sees herself as defending women. Then there’s a bit where social media, or Serious Media- even The Guardian- is ill-equipped to address, but needs hard, patient, sustained work:
I’ve read all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don’t have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive. It’s also clear that one of the objectives of denying the importance of sex is to erode what some seem to see as the cruelly segregationist idea of women having their own biological realities or – just as threatening – unifying realities that make them a cohesive political class. The hundreds of emails I’ve received in the last few days prove this erosion concerns many others just as much. It isn’t enough for women to be trans allies. Women must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves.
I hear you. Sex is real. Sex is important. Possibly it would be better if we could simply agree that trans people are an anomaly rather than a new reality meaning sex does not matter, and talk more clearly about sex. The beliefs that “sex is real” and “trans people are real” need not be in conflict: I hold both with no cognitive dissonance whatsoever. The article she initially objected to intended to aid women (and nonbinary people) afflicted by period poverty. She would support that aim, just not the language.
“Trans ideology” is not a way of redefining the world, including all people with ovaries, but a way we talk amongst ourselves while we try to pluck up the courage to transition. 0.1% of the population transition. We are not the great threat from whom all women need protected, and saying that we are, is dangerous to us.
JK Rowling is hurting, including because of that sexual assault. I wish she had not made the journey to full-blown trans-exclusion, demonstrated in that essay. The only step she has to make now is to demand the exclusion of even trans women who have had genital operations from women’s spaces. She sees trans excluders as bullied. I wish there was no excuse for that, but there is.
I am terrified. The bottom is falling out of my world. I had hoped for trans recognition, when Theresa May stood up at the Pink News Awards, and now it seems further away than ever. I have just finished, at 6am, listening to the dawn chorus.
22 July: Some people would claim Rowling is an ally to trans people! They point to a few apparently friendly phrases in her rant. Here are those apparently friendly phrases, and why they are transphobic.
28 August: after the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organisation condemned Rowling’s transphobia, she returned the award they had previously given her for her work with a children’s charity. Disingenuously, she claimed “I absolutely refute the accusation that I hate trans people or wish them ill, or that standing up for the rights of women is wrong, discriminatory, or incites harm or violence to the trans community”.
So let us consider some of the more hateful phrases in her essay.
“Accusations and threats from trans activists have been bubbling in my twitter timeline.” She portrays herself as a victim, and draws a direct link between her violent husband and “trans activists”.
Anti-trans campaigners are “worried about the dangers to young people, gay people and about the erosion of women’s and girl’s rights.” She portrays vulnerable trans people as a danger, or a threat. Her screed uses the root “threat” five times”, and always the alleged threat is trans people or trans rights. Transphobes and anti-trans campaigners, however, only want “concerns to be heard”.
Marks and Spencers are “allowing any man who says they identify as a woman into the women’s changing rooms.” She calls trans women “men”. She belittles our anguish before we come out.
Trans advocates allegedly “intimidate many people, institutions and organisations I once admired, who’re cowering before the tactics of the playground.”
Why speak up? she asks. Because she claims the “new trans activism” will imperil the charitable causes she supports, endanger education and safeguarding of children, damage free speech, encourage unjustified transition and damage to girls’ bodies and fertility before detransition, and because she is a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor, and (she says because of that) wants single sex spaces to exclude trans women.
She spreads disinformation, such as the claim that “60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria”, (they would not get treatment at a gender clinic) or “A man who intends to have no surgery and take no hormones may now secure himself a Gender Recognition Certificate and be a woman in the sight of the law.” That is, she calls trans women “men”.
She finds trans women’s arguments about us being women “deeply misogynistic and regressive”. She claims there is a wish to erode the idea of “women having their own biological realities or … unifying realities that make them a cohesive political class.” When I say I am a woman, I say I am in a grey area around the edges of the definition. It does not affect what 999 women in a thousand are.
Her claim not to be transphobic seems to be based on the proposition that she does not want us killed:
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.
But she follows that immediately with the baseless claim that we are a threat:
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 hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.
Again, it’s “any man who believes or feels he’s a woman”, which is the DSM and ICD 10 definition of a trans woman. She belittles our anguish. And the anti-trans campaigners, however hateful their rhetoric, only “want their concerns to be heard”.
Rowling’s screed is transphobic. It attempts to incite anger and fear against harmless trans women.
Lots of people have written reasoned refutations. Jennifer Finney Boylan gave broad brush strokes in the NYT. Evan Urquhart answered Rowling from the point of view of trans men. Mermaids published a point by point refutation.