JK Rowling Is On Board The TERF Train

by | Dec 24, 2019 | QUEER RVA

After months of hints on social media, the Harry Potter author has overtly expressed support for one of the UK’s many transgender-exclusionary radical feminists. Our childhood is officially ruined.

Thousands of LGBTQ teens and young adults are bummed at the news that broke last week about JK Rowling. Through things like social media likes, the beloved author of the Harry Potter stories had already been very subtly indicating support for the trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) movement that has been ascendant in the UK for the past several years. Now she has made a public statement via Twitter in support of Maya Forstater, a British researcher who lost her contract with charitable organization Centre For Global Development (CGD) due to her social media statements to the effect that trans women were not real women.

On December 19, Rowling tweeted, “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill”

In this tweet, Rowling attempts to have it both ways. She begins with a number of statements telling an unidentified person or community to, in essence, live their life as they choose. But then, in her final pre-hashtag question, she frames the situation surrounding Maya Forstater, who the hashtags indicate she is “standing with,” as trans people hounding Forstater out of her job for “stating that sex is real.” Which is exactly the kind of heavily-loaded language that’s become all too common in the United Kingdom, as that country’s TERF movement has gained more and more traction in the mainstream over the past decade.

I honestly don’t feel like rehashing that entire issue, so if you’re not aware of what I’m talking about, I will simply refer you to my 2018 article, “Gender Trouble: Will The UK’s TERF Problem Invade the US?” and move on.

What we do need to talk about is Rowling’s statement that “sex is real.” Which, if you think about it from a certain angle, is a wild thing to say. But she doesn’t mean sex as in sexual intercourse — she’s using the scientific term for the distinction between male and female. And that’s a real distinction, sure… but in the wake of transgender and non-binary acceptance becoming more prevalent in certain areas of mainstream society, scientists are looking deeper and finding that the issue is a good bit more complicated than your high school biology class told you.

Not if you ask the many TERFs with prominent voices in the UK, though. Much like American right-wingers, they rally around declarations that biological sex is immutable, that there are only two genders, that gender is binary. Maya Forstater has made similar statements. Indeed, when a UK judge, James Tayler, ruled against her last week in a discrimination lawsuit she’d filed against the CGD for firing her, she said exactly those sorts of things in her response to the judgment, printed by The Guardian.

“My belief … is that sex is a biological fact, and is immutable,” stated Forstater. “There are two sexes, male and female. Men and boys are male. Women and girls are female. It is impossible to change sex. These were until very recently understood as basic facts of life by almost everyone.”

So there we are — the woman JK Rowling has taken to social media to defend is the textbook definition of a TERF. She believes that trans and non-binary identities are invalid. And based on her statement that “sex is real,” it seems JK Rowling believes the same thing.

What’s more, Rowling’s entire framing of the Forstater situation is misleading and unfair. She implies that trans people hounded Forstater out of her job, when in reality, the CGD made the decision not to renew Forstater’s contract on their own. What’s more, after Forstater sued the CGD claiming discrimination, the aforementioned Judge Tayler ruled against her, stating that “[Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

Maya Forstater speaks at a feminist conference. Photo via Maya Forstater/Facebook

Louise Rea, a lawyer with the firm of Bates Wells, which advised CGD in the case, further explained to the Guardian the reasoning behind Tayler’s legal ruling. “Employment Judge Tayler acknowledged that there is nothing to stop the claimant campaigning against the proposed revisions to the Gender Recognition Act or, expressing her opinion that there should be some spaces that are restricted to women assigned female at birth. However, she can do so without insisting on calling transwomen men. It is the fact that her belief necessarily involves violating the dignity of others which means it is not protected under the Equality Act 2010.”

Therefore, this clearly isn’t just a case of trans people hounding a woman out of a job, as Rowling states. It’s a case of a TERF hounding trans people in public until her bosses didn’t want to employ her anymore, and a judge finding her behavior unacceptable under the law of the UK — which is, as we’ve discussed, not exactly the most enlightened country where trans rights are concerned.

This isn’t the first time Rowling’s come under suspicion of holding trans-exclusionary beliefs; in March 2018, Rowling liked a tweet on social media that referred to trans women as “men in dresses.” When confronted about it, though, her press agent backpedaled, saying that Rowling’s like of the tweet was “a clumsy and middle-aged moment,” and that it didn’t reflect her true beliefs.

So far, there’s been no such backpedal this time. Perhaps we’ll get one in time for Christmas? It seems more likely, though, that Rowling has decided to go along with a prominent sentiment in UK feminism. And with a tweet like this one, I don’t really see how there’s any going back.

Top Photo: JK Rowling, via Facebook

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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