In the 3,600-word piece, published on her website on Wednesday, Rowling explained why she has joined the UK’s polarising trans debate, revealing that she was “a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor” and held “concerns around single sex spaces.”
“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 wrote.
The backlash was immediate. “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are,” actress Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger in the “Potter films,” wrote on Twitter hours later, without mentioning Rowling.
Watson added that “many other people around the world see you [trans people], respect you and love you for who you are.” The sentiment was reiterated by her co-star Bonnie Wright, who wrote on Twitter: “Transwomen are Women. I see and love you.”
This split in opinion reveals a wider debate that has raged over trans rights in the UK, where a number of columnists and radical feminists have argued that trans women are not women and should be barred from single-sex spaces like refuges or changing rooms.
Rowling’s foray into the matter has not only made her one of the highest-profile, and perhaps richest, proponents of the gender critical debate, but trans activists say the author has used her lived experience as a tool to prop up a transphobic worldview.
“Through her own legitimate experiences of violence, she’s evoked the threat of gender-based violence against women in order to connect it to fear of trans people,” Nim Ralph, a 34-year-old trans activist, told CNN.
Ralph added “it’s devastating” to see “somebody as powerful – and have as wide a reach as J.K. Rowling – spend her time in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a global uprising for black lives, and in the middle of Pride month, write an essay with a lot of misinformation and transphobia.”
Gender and sex
One common shorthand for understanding what it means to be trans is that one’s gender identity does not match the sex one was assigned at birth – anathema to anti-trans feminists, who argue sex is immutable.
Rowling wrote on Twitter last weekend: “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
Her comments came under fire from her large fan-base as well as “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe.
“Transgender women are women,” Radcliffe wrote in a blog post for The Trevor Project, a non-profit devoted to suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth. “Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo (Rowling) or I.”
In a statement to Variety, “Fantastic Beasts” actor Eddie Redmayne said he disagreed with her and respect for trans people should remain “a cultural imperative.”
“My dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities, which all too often results in violence and abuse. They simply want to live their lives peacefully, and it’s time to let them do so,” he said.