I wasn’t going to respond to JK Rowling’s essay at first. Even though she claims to have done almost two years of research on trans issues, she seems to have missed reading the entire WPATH standards of care and is under the impression that we have children changing gender willy-nilly without any real good cause. She is also under the impression this makes her an expert.
Maybe that’s because she’s not actually doing research. She’s doing a literature review and fitting some things she reads to fit her fears that somehow, people who aren’t trans are just going to transition on a whim.
All because once in her life, she felt bad about being an adolescent woman. All because a handful of extremists get in her face and give her confirmation to her notions of gender confirmation becoming as easy as buying OTC aspirin.
Not everyone shared in her singular experience, and her despising being a woman at one point is, frankly, not the experience of every other female on the planet. Personally, I didn’t have a great time facing mittelschmerz, ovarian cysts, PMS, and menses, but I also enjoyed being a woman and I wouldn’t trade it. Because I was born a woman and it fit.
I can’t begin to tell you if Rowling had a moment of gender confusion or simply didn’t like getting her period and growing up. Had I been her mother, I would have discussed it with her. I also probably would have taken her to therapy just so she could work these things out in a safe and supportive environment.
As any parent should.
Maybe someday, when we fully understand gender development and can accurately assess brain versus body development, it really will be as easy as that. But that’s not now. Rowling seems to think it’s coming any second, but that’s not true.
Now, with our current body of knowledge and our standards of care, it’s a struggle. Browbeating adolescents with transphobic messages of “you’re just confused” or not being able to think beyond first-year/sixth grade biology is detrimental to their mental health.
If a child is having issues with gender—gender confusion, thinking they might be trans or agender—the very first thing any parent can do is not react emotionally. They can sit quietly and say these magic words:
“Tell me more about that.”
Then, another magical step is to be quiet and listen.
If it sounds like it might be clinically significant, take them to a qualified therapist who will help them work through their issues. They might be trans. They might be agender. They might be gender non-conforming. They might be cis and not understand what that means. They might be genderfluid. The point is, they need a space where they can explore that safely.
In my 20 years of literature review, working with, and loving and accepting trans people in my life, not one of them regretted their transition and they took the necessary steps along the way to get there. In many ways, transmen and transwomen have to go through adolescence all over again with HRT. Love and acceptance is all that is required from us while they go through the transition to confirmation.
Rowling tends to push the myth of transitioning just because young girls don’t want to be girls:
I’m concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning (returning to their original sex), because they regret taking steps that have, in some cases, altered their bodies irrevocably, and taken away their fertility. Some say they decided to transition after realising they were same-sex attracted, and that transitioning was partly driven by homophobia, either in society or in their families.
Review of literature does not support her notion of “increasing numbers” and “the huge explosion” of women altering their bodies irrevocably. I would be interested to know where she’s getting these numbers because the WHO and every other body I’ve checked with lacks these data. As far as we can estimate, and this is a rough estimate, one to five percent of people detransition. To me, it sounds like Rowling did her literature review with those who have an agenda to massage some numbers in their favor. It’s beginning to look a lot like confirmation bias.
Another thing she mentions is the Gender Recognition Certificate (which has been in place since 2004 in the UK):
A man who intends to have no surgery and take no hormones may now secure himself a Gender Recognition Certificate and be a woman in the sight of the law. Many people aren’t aware of this.
It’s not quite that simple. According to the UK Government’s website, the criteria for getting the GRC are a bit steeper than that (emphasis mine):
• you’re 18 or over
• you’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria (discomfort with your birth gender) – this is also called gender identity disorder, gender incongruence or transsexualism
• you’ve lived in your acquired gender for at least 2 years
• you intend to live in your acquired gender for the rest of your life
OR (emphasis mine):
• you’re 18 or over
• you’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or had surgery to change your sexual characteristics
• you live in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland most of the time
• you intend to live in your acquired gender for the rest of your life
• you’re in (or have been in) a protected marriage or protected civil partnership before 10 December 2014 (16 December 2014 for Scottish marriages and civil partnerships)
• you’ve lived in your acquired gender for at least 6 years before 10 December 2014 (16 December 2014 for Scottish marriages and civil partnerships)
I’m far more concerned with where she’s getting this idea, and far more concerned with any institution that’s not following the WPATH standards of care. It seems to me that Rowling has been doing her “research” amongst a terribly biased and panicked sort.
Another point I think that needs to be addressed that ties into the above:
The writings of young trans men reveal a group of notably sensitive and clever people. The more of their accounts of gender dysphoria I’ve read, with their insightful descriptions of anxiety, dissociation, eating disorders, self-harm and self-hatred, the more I’ve wondered whether, if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition. The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge. I struggled with severe OCD as a teenager. If I’d found community and sympathy online that I couldn’t find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred.
Again, this ties back into personal experience not being universal. Just because you had this happen does not apply to all young people, and finding community and sympathy online may be the only space where a person with gender dysphoria could fit. When I was adolescent, I lacked that safe space. No one accepted my bisexuality. I was called a dyke, bullied on a daily basis, and was generally alone and miserable. Had it not been for a therapist who was great with LGBTQ issues and some supportive people, I may have committed suicide or gone on a shooting spree at my school. But again, my personal experience is not universal.
The threat of taking away a teen’s safe space where they could actually explore their gender identity is all too real. It doesn’t seem to me that too many teens are transition. It seems that many are questioning their identities as is normal in adolescence. Can’t we just step back and give them a safe space to do that, and do talk about transition when and where appropriate?
Finally, I’d like to address where Rowling gives us the reason she isn’t transphobic at all:
Again and again I’ve been told to ‘just meet some trans people.’ I have: in addition to a few younger people, who were all adorable, I happen to know a self-described transsexual woman who’s older than I am and wonderful. Although she’s open about her past as a gay man, I’ve always found it hard to think of her as anything other than a woman, and I believe (and certainly hope) she’s completely happy to have transitioned.
That’s wonderful, but you’re using a transwoman to try to prove you aren’t transphobic. It’s like the person who says “I can’t be racist, I have a black friend.”
I’m sorry a handful of extremists and internet amplification have warped Rowling’s common sense and fed into her confirmation bias, but she is treading on dangerous territory here. The old adage “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” rings true. Rowling has just a little knowledge and a big, persuasive opinion. I fear that she will do the trans community a hell of a lot of damage by speaking out like this.
Your concerns would be absolutely valid if they were real, Ms. Rowling. But they’re based in extremist thought without a lot of facts underlying. So please, take a step back, take another look at the research you’ve done and its sources, and try again. You have a ton of influence and are surrounded by people who are terrified of disagreeing with you due to your immense success.
So please, don’t be such a Dolores Jane Umbridge, buying into the fears and securing power through intimidation. Be Minerva McGonegall—a woman who examines her potential confirmation bias and defends those amongst us who are the very vulnerable.
As a person who loves and adores transmen and transwomen on a deep, personal level, I ask you kindly to reconsider your biases. Because what you are doing is fueling phobia and hate, under the guise of sticking with “facts.”
The most dangerous person is a well-meaning person who has just a smattering of knowledge on a subject. Please, defer to the experts on this, and be aware that you may be suffering from cognitive distortions.
I’ll do the same.