Much ado has been made of J. K. Rowling’s essay explaining her “reasons for speaking out on sex and gender issues.” She has been accused of transphobia far and wide. A school in West Sussex has dropped plans to name one of its houses after her as it does “not wish to be associated with these views.” An adviser for the Elizabeth Warren campaign has called her “complete scum.” A writer for the New York Times has implied that she is responsible for increasing suicidality in gender-dysphoric people. Sanctimonious younger cast members of the Harry Potter movie series (actors of mediocre talent who would not be where they are were it not for Rowling) have tweeted out woke platitudes. Almost all of her critics have ignored what she actually wrote. And next to none have engaged with her verified claims of being a domestic-abuse survivor.
In her essay, Rowling provides “five reasons” for being “worried about the new trans activism, and deciding I need to speak up.” The first is her philanthropic activity, which “supports projects for female prisoners and for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse” as well as funding medical research into MS, “a disease that behaves very differently in men and women.” The second is that she is an ex-teacher and head of a children’s charity, with an interest in education and safeguarding. The third is that, as a “much-banned author,” she is interested in freedom of speech. The fourth is a concern “about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition,” especially since she herself was once unhappy with her body. And the fifth reason is that, as a domestic- and sexual-abuse survivor, she stands 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.”
What becomes clear from reading her essay is that she has done her homework and has been closely following this debate for the past two years. She has collected testimony from trans people, specialists, researchers, and women worried about “the way a socio-political concept is influencing politics, medical practice and safeguarding” and above all, “a climate of fear that serves nobody — least of all trans youth — well.”
Since the mainstream media is intent on reporting only one side of the reaction to Rowling’s essay, I have collected testimonies from those who have similar concerns and who are grateful to her for taking a stand.
First, trans people. Debbie Hayton, a trans woman, told me of the “need to listen” to Rowling. “Trans activism has overreached with endless demands, always taking and never giving,” Hayton said. “The time has come for us to stop and start thinking about others as well as ourselves.” Scott Newgent, a trans man, told me of his agreement as well. “Medical transition creates an illusion of the opposite sex and some find comfort in that. What it does not do is change biology. We cannot get to a place in our society where feelings trump facts, and that is currently what is happening within the transgender debate,” Newgent said.
Second, women and feminists. In her essay, J. K. Rowling reiterated her support for Maya Forstater, a tax expert, who lost her job for tweeting her belief in biological sex. Forstater told me, “I am immensely grateful to J. K. Rowling for her courage and her voice. . . . It is lonely and scary to stand up on your own.” In her essay, Rowling mentions Magdalen Berns, a lesbian feminist based in Scotland who sadly died last year, and who co-founded the grassroots movement For Women Scotland, which fights to hold the Scottish government accountable for relentlessly attempting to erode women’s sex-based rights and protections. A spokesperson for the organization told me their work is often “exhausting and demoralizing” and cited the draft “Hate Crimes bill” introduced in April which “could see women imprisoned for speaking biological truths if someone claims to find it offensive.” (Yes, you read that correctly.) The women at For Women Scotland were “so grateful” and “a little tearful” reading her contribution as well as “incredibly touched that she mentioned [Magdalen] in such a personal essay.”
Third, researchers. Rowling mentions Lisa Littman, a medical doctor and researcher, whose research at Brown University suggesting that the uptick in gender dysphoria among teenage girls was possible “social and peer contagion” became the subject of activist ire. “I applaud J. K. Rowling’s courage to speak out, despite the pushback, to defend the rights of vulnerable people including lesbian and gay youth, survivors of sexual and domestic violence, youth with autism, and detransitioners,” Littman told me. Ken Zucker, the Canadian psychologist and world-renowned expert in gender dysphoria in children, who was unfairly fired after activists launched a smear campaign against him for trying to help some of his young patients through treatments other than “gender affirmation” (e.g. talk therapy and watchful waiting), told me “It is sad that a brilliant writer of fantasy has had to confront the reality of transgender politics. Transgender politics often have little to do with science, unless it is convenient to rely on it to make a political point.” A transgender activist/columnist for the New York Times implied that Rowling’s essay might cause an increase in suicidality among trans youth, but Zucker, whose research spans four decades, told me “although gender-dysphoric teenagers have a higher rate of suicidality, so do other youth who are referred for various mental-health issues. Moreover, there is certainly no convincing evidence that they will actually commit suicide. In this regard, the suicide ‘trope’ can be used to evoke unwarranted anxiety in their parents.”
Abigail Shrier, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, and author of the exhaustively researched book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters (to be released later this month), also backed Rowling. She told me: “The phenomenon of girls with no history of gender dysphoria suddenly deciding they are trans in friend groups is no laughing matter. It’s connected to misogyny, pubescent angst, and the most ancient teenage desire for belonging. People who cheer on the social and medical transition of adolescent girls are making an enormous mistake, encouraging a vulnerable population in self-harm.”
“J. K. Rowling has said what everyone is thinking but are too frightened to say,” a spokesperson for Fair Play for Women told me. “She speaks for the silent majority and a huge number of women will be grateful to her.” Natasha Chart, Board Chair of the Women’s Liberation Front, expressed her gratitude for Rowling’s “solidarity with all of the other women who have suffered this same, unfair monstering for speaking the truth.”
Rowling even manages to find a place for humor in her essay, something her attackers are completely deficient in. “Speaking as a biological woman, a lot of people in positions of power really need to grow a pair (which is doubtless literally possible, according to the kind of people who argue that clownfish prove humans aren’t a dimorphic species).” Well, speaking as someone who has spent a great deal of time on this issue, Rowling’s voice in this debate is — as evidenced — welcome.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been amended since its initial publication.