The student news website of Omaha Central High School

A Response to “In Defense of J.K. Rowling”

April 21, 2023

On February 16, 2023, the “New York Times” published an opinion piece written by Pamela Paul titled “In Defense of J.K. Rowling.” The thesis of the article was that the hate and backlash received by Rowling due to her transphobic comments is unjustified as she supposedly has never made a transphobic comment, instead having her words taken out of context. I first came across this article while working on an assignment for my politics and government class and it sparked my interest on what Paul had to say on the issue. As a gender non-conforming ex-fan of the “Harry Potter” books and Rowling’s writing, the contents of this article are frustrating, with the evidence that Paul presents to be lacking. 

The article starts with a series of quotes from Rowling’s June 2020 essay on her stance on sex and gender issues, originally titled “TERF Wars.” The title comes from the acronym TERF, which stands for “Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminist,” which describes a group of feminists who do not believe transgender women are women and therefore should not be included in the conversation about gender equality and equity. At a glance, the quotes Paul includes appear to be in support of transgender people and that is the intention. Throughout the article, Paul provides links to her sources, including other news articles and tweets from Rowling herself. The downside to these citations is that the average reader will not pursue further knowledge and information in this age of a fast-paced lifestyle. Paul uses this to her advantage, taking these quotes out of context and choosing what she wants to include and what she wants to leave out so she can manipulate the narrative to better fit her opinion.  

I decided to read Rowling’s essay and go through every single link that Paul included in her article to see where Paul was pulling her information from. I went so far as to read links posted in those other articles. After doing so, my opinion on Rowling has not changed. While she may say she is not transphobic, her writing both in the essay and on Twitter dispute that. Not only is Rowling presenting false information, she also does not cite her sources in her essay, something that could have possibly elevated the credibility had she done so. 

A large part of Rowling’s argument in her essay is how easy it apparently is for someone assigned male at birth to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate in order to legally identify as a woman and to use she/her pronouns in Scotland. Her phrasing of “a man who intends to have no surgery and take no hormones” makes it seem like these people have nefarious purposes for seeking out a Gender Recognition Certificate. She is misgendering an entire group of people in this statement, making it so I take her writing less seriously due to her disrespect. Additionally, Rowling fails to mention the high cost of gender confirming treatment and the barrier it poses for transgender people, especially for those without insurance, anywhere in her essay. 

While I could not find a reliable resource for how much gender confirming treatment costs in the United Kingdom, I did find a CNN article from 2015 about the cost of being transgender in the United States after Caitlin Jenner’s highly publicized transition. The article mentions how many transgender people “cite the cost of the [medical] procedures – potentially more than $100,000 out of pocket – and the lack of insurance coverage as a barrier to their transition.” The article cites the Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery as their source for more specific prices of gender confirming surgery, $140,450 for male to female transitions and $124,400 for female to male transitions when the patient is uninsured. These systems are put in place to make things harder for transgender people in any way possible in order to invalidate their existence and identities, making Scotland’s policy a big help to diminish the difficulty that transgender people face. 

Paul isolates Rowling’s statement that she feels “nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men,” but if one were to continue reading Rowling’s essay, she expresses her prejudice against trans women, saying “when you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman…then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside.” She talks about how she believes that trans women are predators because they were assigned male at birth, constantly misgendering them to attempt to prove her point. Instead of trying to get me to understand why she has these beliefs, her disrespect makes me roll my eyes and dismiss her opinions. 

Rowling continually contradicts herself both in the essay and on Twitter. She writes how she believes that “trans people need and deserve protection” but on Twitter, she says “I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans.” It is these contradictions that have led to her being called a TERF and her books to be boycotted by fans. Trans people are being discriminated on the basis of being trans. In the United States, this is evident with the slew of anti-trans policies and legislative bills that are currently working their way through state legislatures. Instead of looking further into the subject, she makes blind assumptions that do not convey the message she thinks she is conveying. 

Rowling’s statements are full of disrespect towards trans people and those who do not fit the gender binary. In a June 2020 tweet, she ridicules an article’s use of inclusive language by saying “people who menstruate” instead of “women.” 

“I’m sure there used to be a word for those people,” Rowling writes, “Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” Her distaste for inclusive language continues in her essay. She does not refer to transgender women as women, only as “any man who believes or feels he’s a woman.” Her reasoning for not liking inclusive language such as “menstruators” and “people with vulvas” is that this language “strikes many women as dehumanizing and demeaning” and that even though she understands why trans activists and advocates prefer to use this kind of language, Rowling says that “for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating.” 

This is not the intention of trans activists who use inclusive language. The intention is to make sure everyone, regardless of gender identity, feels accepted, represented, and included. This language recognizes that not all women get their periods while some men do. It also recognizes that there are people who identify outside of the gender binary that may get their periods as well. It is focused on increasing awareness of these various groups of people and making sure they have a voice in these conversations as well. 

Rowling continually talks about how “the new trans activism is having…a significant impact on many of the causes I support, because it’s pushing to erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender,” explaining how trans activists are supposedly saying that sex and gender are the same things, just with two different names. This is not true. Transgender people are not trying to replace the word “sex” with “gender” because the two terms have different meanings, with one based in biology while the other describing a social-cultural construct. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “sex” as “either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures” while it defines “gender” as “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.” While the two are sometimes connected, for example when someone assigned female at birth identifies as a woman and vice versa, they are not always connected. Sex refers exclusively to the classification of reproductive organs, making the basis of it a biological one. Gender is a social construct that is primarily presented as a binary, but more closely follows a spectrum instead. The idea of nonbinary individuals as well as bigender, genderfluid, and genderflux individuals is not a new one, with two-spirit individuals being an important part of various Indigenous groups, long before the colonization of countries such as the United States and Canada. 

Rowling’s incorrect assumption that trans activists are attempting to replace the term “sex” with the term “gender” concerns her because of her involvement in funding medical research for multiple sclerosis, a condition that affects people assigned female at birth differently than people assigned male at birth. She says that it is topics such as this one that would be most affected by replacing “sex” with “gender.” 

Time and time again, Rowling emphasizes her concern for the safety of cisgender women in prisons and domestic abuse shelters if trans women are allowed to use these spaces. This reiterates Rowling’s view of trans women as predators, even though she later states that she knows that “like women, they’re [trans people] 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.” The best way for trans women to be protected from abuse and violence is to allow them to be in these spaces along with cisgender women. Just because they were assigned male at birth does not mean they are predators. This may sound like a “not all men” excuse, but this is not the case because trans women are not men, they are women. This is the mistake that Rowling keeps failing to notice. Her word choice shows that she does not see trans women as women and that is why she has been labeled a TERF by the internet and her former fan base.   

Paul’s reasons for defending Rowling are just as harmful as the original offenses made by Rowling. Unlike what Paul, E.J. Rosetta, and Megan Phelps-Roper are trying to say, Rowling has made countless transphobic remarks. Paul even spells it out in the beginning of her article, as plain as day. Rowling believes that a medical diagnosis is necessary for someone to identify as transgender, even though she does not mention how difficult it is for the health care system to acknowledge these issues or provide safe, affordable gender-confirming care. She has explicitly stated that she believes that trans women are predators, that being transgender is a new way for men to get access to women in order to assault them. So, in order to try to prevent this unrealistic scenario, Rowling wants to exclude transgender women from women’s prisons and domestic abuse shelters for women.  

Rowling’s comments toward the transgender community do a lot more harm than good. Her comments help add to false and negative narratives about transgender people without providing sources to back up her claims. Coming from a nonbinary individual, these are the reasons why Rowling is transphobic and why her comments are hurtful to the “Harry Potter” fanbase. 

Donate to The Register
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Omaha Central High School. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

The Register • Copyright 2024 • FLEX WordPress Theme by SNOLog in

Donate to The Register
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Register Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *