Why abuse of JK Rowling is a problem for trans rights activists – Gina Davidson

JK Rowling suffered vitriolic abuse after comments about her views on sex and gender (Picture: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)JK Rowling suffered vitriolic abuse after comments about her views on sex and gender (Picture: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)
JK Rowling suffered vitriolic abuse after comments about her views on sex and gender (Picture: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)
JK Rowling is right that it is not hateful towards trans people to say that her life has been shaped by being female, says Gina Davidson.

The levels of vitriolic abuse heaped on JK Rowling in the last week, for daring to explain her views on the differences between sex and gender, should worry all those who are fighting for trans rights.

Rowling has been lambasted for declaring that sex matters, that it is women who menstruate, and that the rights of women and girls to body autonomy, privacy and dignity should be upheld just as much as the rights of trans people. For saying these things she has been declared a bigot, a transphobe, scum.

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She’s been accused of “punching down” from her place of privilege. A privilege, which stems from experiencing domestic violence, single motherhood, and having to drop her name, Joanne, in order to get the sexist publishing industry of the 1990s to even look at her first Harry Potter book.

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Even now with all her success she has revealed she is nervously jumpy around male strangers – who knew that money couldn’t buy you shelter from the memories of a violent past? Yet this has been written off as her attempting to exploit a “tragic backdrop to hide transphobia”.

The outpouring of misogyny and hatred for one woman has been both disgusting and disheartening to witness. A lot of it is violent, sexual and very male. Of course there are women who disagree with her views, and are angry and disappointed in her.

But the torrid rage is from men; those telling her to “choke” on their appendage or declare how they want to “smack f*** out of her”. For those who are seriously trying to make life better for transgender people by tackling discrimination, engendering acceptance, and by ensuring they are able to access the health services and support they need, they know this furore will have done them no favours at all.

Hatred only results in hardening people’s minds. Why would any woman agree to share private spaces such as changing rooms or toilets with the same people abusing Rowling?

The backlash against women, particularly those in politics, who dare to have an opinion and are not afraid to voice it, has been growing steadily, worse, as ever, for women of colour. However the debate around changes to the Gender Recognition Act appears to have given a veiled seal of approval to out-and-out misogyny; a nod and wink to the men who’ve never liked the idea of equality in the first place, to let loose with their abuse; men from both the right and the left of politics.

This misogyny has seen women derogatorally called Terfs (trans exclusionary radical feminists), has seen women referred to as “non-men” within the Green Party down south; forced cervical cancer charities to erase the word woman and replace it with “people with a cervix” and seen women who campaign against female genital mutilation described as transphobic for daring to centre the biological sex of women in their work.

It seems that to talk of women and their bodies is transphobic to both transwomen who cannot do these things because they are biologically male and to transmen, who no longer want to even think of their bodies as female at all. All natal women should now do, it would seem, is define themselves by what they are not.

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Even the Scottish Government’s Gender Representation on Public Boards Act – a law which is supposed to increase the number of women on public boards – defines a woman in terms of whether or not they are transgender. Is it any wonder that many women feel that their rights, long fought for, are being rolled back? That they are being asked, not to include, but to stand aside. To give up their single-sex spaces, to give up the very word that defines them.

JK Rowling wrote of her empathy with trans people, but pointed out her life has been shaped by being female, and that it was not hateful to say so. She was right.

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