MuggleCast 469 Transcript
Transcript for MuggleCast Episode #469, Why J.K. Rowling Is Wrong About Trans People
[Show music plays]
Andrew Sims: Welcome to MuggleCast, your weekly ride into the wizarding world fandom. I’m Andrew.
Eric Scull: I’m Eric.
Micah Tannenbaum: I’m Micah.
Laura Tee: And I’m Laura.
Andrew: So on today’s episode, we will be discussing J.K. Rowling’s tweets and her blog post about trans people from last week. We believe as a group that these comments were wrong and hurtful on multiple levels, and the purpose of this episode is to explain why we feel this way, and we’re hoping to educate you and give you perspective. And later, we will discuss how we go from here as fans and as hosts of a Harry Potter podcast, because this really did shake the fandom over the past week. And while we hope to enlighten and change minds, I also just want to add that we will probably not talk about this again, because J.K. Rowling has made it abundantly clear where she stands now, and we don’t need to keep digging into this. We are a Harry Potter podcast; we want to stick to Harry Potter. And I know a lot of listeners might be saying, “Why do you guys have to talk about it?” Because it’s important, and we really do believe that. And to help us discuss this today, we’re joined by our friend Dr. Sarah Steelman. She has a PhD; she is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in LGBTQ+ affirmative practices. Hi, Sarah, welcome to the show.
Sarah Steelman: Hello, I’m happy to be here. I wish it was better circumstances, but teenage me is thrilled nonetheless.
[Andrew and Micah laugh]
Andrew: Yes, Sarah has been a longtime listener of the show. We’ve met her many times; we’ve hung out many times. She is a wonderful person. And we’re so excited to have you here because you really know what you’re talking about. I think the rest of the panel here will be the first to admit we’re not experts; we are not perfect when discussing these types of topics, so we wanted to bring on somebody who has expertise here.
Micah: Yeah, absolutely. And I think you touched on it earlier with the education piece: This show today is not just about educating our listeners. In many ways, it’s about educating ourselves as hosts. And I think that that’s exactly why Sarah is here; she is the expert. And I know we’ve gotten a number of emails, we’ve gotten a number of tweets about not rushing to judgment about this particular situation, and I would say that’s exactly what we’re not doing, right? That’s why we have an expert on. That’s why we’ve taken a couple days to digest everything that’s been put out there. And hopefully, people take something away from the show today.
Laura: And before we dive into our main discussion, we did want to give a brief trigger warning. Today’s show will contain a lot of unaffirmative and transphobic language. Due to the nature of the discussion, these words and quotes will need to be said as they were written without correcting the language to be more affirmative. If hearing these words is too triggering for you, please protect your mental health, and it is okay to pause or stop the episode as you need. If you need support, we do have a couple of resources to point you towards. You can call the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386, and you can also call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.
Andrew: So we recorded Episode 468 last Saturday morning, and we go and try to have a peaceful weekend. And I’m sitting on the couch, bored out of my mind, refreshing Twitter, and here comes a tweet from J.K. Rowling. She shares an article with the headline “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.” She quotes this link; she says, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” She’s mad that they used “people” instead of “women.” And of course, people started freaking out because she was once again being transphobic. And of course, RIP her mentions immediately.
Eric: This isn’t just an errant like. This isn’t what publicists may refer to as a middle-aged moment. It’s not J.K. Rowling following people. People have been telling us… trans listeners have been writing in for ages saying, “These are problematic. This is what J.K. Rowling is doing. She’s friending all these people who are self-described gender critical,” etc. This was J.K. Rowling in the middle of nowhere, seemingly apropos of nothing, finding fault with a politically correct statement.
Andrew: Right, while she was back on Twitter to promote this new free children’s book, like she brought up in her blog post.
Eric: Like she said.
Andrew: So RIP her mentions. Then Rowling follows up with a Twitter thread, and she says, “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth. The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – i.e., to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense. I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.” And then she goes to bed. And then Twitter continues to respond to her, and people are really upset about this. Before we get into the blog post that she wrote a few days later, Sarah, can you tell us why everything she just said on Saturday night was offensive and wrong?
Sarah: Yeah, so a few things. Let’s just discuss some of the language that she used. So first of all, “same-sex attraction.” That’s something… we now mostly say “same gender attraction,” or we just say “LGB” or “queer.” And so we’ve already started to remove that from sex, but I think her Internet is lost somewhere in the early 2000s or ’90s. But sex, as she is talking about it, is what we affirmatively refer to as what you are assigned at birth. And so you may have heard the terms “AFAB” or “AMAB.” AFAB would mean that you are assigned female at birth. AMAB means that you are assigned male at birth. And the reason why we discuss this is because, one, it feels better for trans people. It doesn’t make the distinction between being “real” or “not real” in your identity. But also, sex is not actually this binary. It’s a spectrum always, and people are intersex, and they are not assigned intersex at birth, sometimes. There are ways to know if someone is intersex, and there are actually a lot of corrective surgeries that are done almost immediately after birth for that, or there’s some chromosomal issue or something like that, that is either never discovered or discovered way later. And this is also true of people who are AFAB or AMAB, where you can have different chromosomes than what you would typically expect of a woman or a man. You can have hormonal issues that cause issues with menstruation; there are lots of cis women who do not menstruate. And so this is just a little bit about some of the words that she used that were wrong. And then for gender, that is what we know as how people identify what roles and scripts they see themselves as filling, their relationships with society, how they view themselves internally, and these can be changed in terms of labels throughout the lifespan. But it has been found over and over again, scholarly, to not be able to be changed, which is why conversion therapy is unethical to do in almost any therapeutic licensure. It is harmful and it doesn’t work. And there are lots of studies and legitimate science if you are interested in understanding why or how we know that.
Micah: Sarah, one question I had here is looking at these tweets, why could they potentially be misleading or misinformative to the average person looking at the tweet and saying, “Oh, it’s just J.K. Rowling tweeting again”? Because I think that has happened a lot, as it did back in December.
Sarah: Yeah. And I think that something that a lot of people try to discuss when they are saying why they don’t support a marginalized population is they make an argument that the marginalized population is not making. So here, the arguments she’s using is “My experience has been shaped by being female.” Yeah, no one is questioning that. And honestly, if anyone here has spoken with trans people, they understand that they have had their experience shaped by how they were socialized, what they were assigned at birth; this isn’t a novel concept or something that trans people don’t already think. Being trans does not mean automatically that you are as far left as you can go politically and want to burn all categories. There are a lot of trans people that I work with that are more conservative or more traditional in their beliefs about what gender is and what gender roles they should follow. And this connection to “All trans people believe that sex doesn’t exist, where being female doesn’t have lived consequences” is not what anyone is saying, besides J.K. Rowling, apparently.
Laura: And we wanted to talk a little bit about why we think J.K. Rowling may be doing this now, why she’s been consistently doing this, especially for the last six months or so. We actually got a really great email from Anna, who resides in Scotland, about the Scottish Gender Recognition Act. Scotland is currently looking to reform its 2004 Gender Recognition Act in order to make gender recognition more accessible to trans people living in Scotland. Of course, J.K. Rowling also lives in Scotland. Something that I observed when I looked up the recommendation from Scottish Parliament about the Gender Recognition Act is that it was published on December 17 of last year, and of course, we all remember J.K. Rowling’s December tweet about Maya Forstater – I always forget her last name – that came on December 19. So it seems possible that J.K. Rowling may have been made aware of this around the time it was published, and that that sort of incentivized her to start speaking out on this.
Sarah: Yeah, and also, I hear a lot of people on Twitter and in the fandom… I’ve been in this fandom for my entire life, practically. I started listening to MuggleCast in 2006, and attending Harry Potter conferences that year as well. And so a lot of things that I have been seeing have been supportive of trans people and dismissing J.K. Rowling’s statement, but for some people that may not understand why this is so harmful… I mean, yesterday we had Trump try and set limitations on healthcare for trans people. And you have to do a lot of reading, and some of it I think you have to understand how trans healthcare already works, because you might think right away, “Okay, this limits access to trans-affirmative care,” which some people may or may not already see as cosmetic or optional procedures. But this also limits whether or not trans men are able to get hysterectomies, whether they are able to get tested for ovarian cancer, whether trans women can get prostate exams… it disrupts and will kill a lot of people because we have care that we have gendered. And we are trying – and by we, I mean the Trump administration in the US – is trying to limit whether or not these things will be allowed to be done through insurance. And we all know through insurance that if you can’t get a very serious procedure – or sometimes a very simple procedure – done, you are potentially going bankrupt doing it out of pocket. And so this is a huge problem, and if it does pass, will have a very deadly effect on trans people.
Eric: It really seems like a global effort, or a global affront, is taking place that’s been taking place over the last couple of years. But really, this movement really seems to be… it crosses country borders, really.
Andrew: And I think it’s one of the fights of our generation.
Laura: Agreed. I’d also like to point out, to Sarah’s point about this move by the Trump administration here in the US, that happened on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Andrew: In Pride Month too.
Laura: Yeah, during Pride Month. It feels like a massive dog whistle. And that is exactly why – and Sarah, you can let me know if this is accurate – it’s exactly why this kind of rhetoric is dangerous.
Eric: Now, dog whistle, I want to redefine that term. We’ve heard it only once before on this show that I can recall.
Laura: Essentially, a type of virtue signaling.
Sarah: You could easily say, and people do, that it’s just one person’s opinion and we shouldn’t get outraged about it. But there’s a few issues with that, in general, when people state opinions like this, but particularly when J.K. Rowling states that opinion like this, because these opinions are not from nowhere. If it truly was J.K. Rowling on an island by herself – and like, please let that happen – but if that’s what was happening and she just had this opinion and was stating it into a void, okay, that probably doesn’t have a ton of ripples societally. But these are very well-known opinions. These are opinions that she is shouting at a very, very large platform. These are opinions that she is shouting when she has a lot of money, and politics is often run by money, and so there is a lot of ability that she has more than just her words that we don’t know about to influence how laws pass, how policies pass. And that is true everywhere. I can’t tell you how many times… within therapy, in general, a lot of times what people are coming in for is internalized problems, so bad communication, issues with forming positive relationships, trust issues, things that they can sit in my office and I can be like, “Here’s how you fix this.” And when you work with marginalized folk, and I work primarily with trans people, they are coming in because outside of my office in their life, there are these issues, and those are things that they cannot fix. They are coming in because there are bureaucratic issues that allow them to be misgendered, or to not get the care that they need. They are coming in because they have… in Nevada, where I live, luckily, we have a lot of state protections, but not every state does. And so they are coming in because the world is actively against them in a lot of ways. And this is how the world became actively against them, is people have these opinions. And we, for an unknown reason, said that they were allowed their opinion, more than we said that these trans people were allowed to live.
Laura: And for just one example of the impact, we wanted to share an email from a listener who wrote in. This is from Collin, and Collin says, “I’m a transgender man (meaning I was assigned female at birth), and Harry Potter has always been a really important part of my life. I started reading the books when I was 7, and I’m 20 now. I’m a gay man, I’ve had relationships with gay men, and it’s never been an issue. Not once. This kind of talk just further divides the LGBT community and it’s been a talking point for hateful fringe parts of the cis gay community for decades. It really hurts to have to recognize that these beliefs are part of the person who created my favorite series, and it hurts even more that she’s doubling down even now. I know it can be hard to accept something is true when you don’t want it to be, especially about someone you look up to, so I hope the people struggling with that right now recognize how much more painful it is for the people this is directly aimed at. A big part of transitioning is making it through all the people who are questioning you, and think that they know you better than you do. It’s really painful that a woman whose work was such an important part of my childhood is one of them.”
Andrew: Yeah, thank you for sharing that, Collin. And so before we get to J.K. Rowling’s blog post, I just want to highlight some of the responses from Harry Potter actors. These came as a surprise, starting with Dan Radcliffe on June 8, who spoke out. I don’t think anybody saw this coming. Dan Radcliffe is very separated from Harry Potter these days, but he’s actually been very involved with the Trevor Project. Laura mentioned it at the top of the show; this is a hotline for LGBTQ people to call at any time for some free counseling. He posted on the Trevor Project’s website a statement in response to J.K. Rowling’s thoughts and came out against her pretty strongly. He said, “As someone who has been honored to work with and continues to contribute to the Trevor Project for the last decade, and just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something in this moment. Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional healthcare associations who have far more expertise on the subject matter than either Jo or I.” And he says more, but we will get into that later in the show.
Eric: On the point of Dan, on the point of Collin’s email so far, is empathy. This comes down to how much empathy you have for people who suffer from being marginalized. And I think that… I get a lot of empathy reading Dan’s statement. I do not get a lot of empathy reading Jo’s sarcastic retort on Twitter about people who menstruate. And that’s going to, I think, be a throughline as we continue discussing this.
Andrew and Micah: Yeah.
Micah: I would just add, too, I think it’s also about education, right? For people like myself, who just are not familiar enough. And I think that that’s part of doing the show, that’s part about having these conversations, because if you’re able to better educate yourself and understand, that goes a long way as well. That’s, to me, in tandem with being empathetic towards other people in who they are.
Sarah: And that’s one thing I appreciated from Dan’s statement, is as far as I’m aware, it’s the only Harry Potter response person who has said that there are people who have far more expertise on the subject than him or Jo. And that’s one thing that obviously I would notice, because that’s another issue. I mean, that’s a whole 2020 vibe right now of not trusting expertise, and not understanding that expertise exists. Like, you watch one YouTube video and you think you’re a genius on the matter. And so that’s another thing that occurs in J.K. Rowling; her statement is coded with language that does make it seem like she is an expert. And a lot of people, when they do state opinions, if they are in positions of power, can make their opinions seem like fact. And we know all too well that that works. And so I appreciated that. This isn’t some weird thing just happening online, or that Jo thinks is new to the world. This has been studied for decades. This has been worked on for as long… these are conversations that are already happening, and we know a lot more about it than what we put on Twitter.
Micah: Even given recent events, I think we’re seeing more so that people are not being silent about things anymore, even if it’s uncomfortable, and I think that goes a long way in terms of allyship.
Andrew: So on June 10, Emma Watson came out against J.K. Rowling’s statement as well. She said, “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.” And then on June 12, Rupert Grint completed the trifecta and issued a similar statement. I saw this funny tweet on Twitter: “These statements literally came in true trio order: Harry bold yet dramatic, Hermione eloquent yet pedantic, and Ron loyal yet late.”
Eric: Honestly, the solidarity. Noma Dumezweni, Bonnie Wright, Eddie Redmayne famously…
Andrew: Evanna Lynch.
Eric: Evanna Lynch followed Dan. All of these actors. Dan Fogler now, as well.
Andrew: Yeah. And I will say, it was gutsier for Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler to come out in support of trans people and against J.K. Rowling’s statements, because they still work for J.K. Rowling.
Andrew: It was gutsy for Dan and Rupert and Emma, for sure. But they still have to go and see her. And in fact, on Friday night, the screenwriter who’s working with J.K. Rowling on Fantastic Beasts 3 and who wrote seven of the eight Harry Potter movies, Steve Kloves, he came out against J.K. Rowling’s statement as well. So a lot of people are speaking out about this, and good for them, because they could have just stayed silent and not annoy their boss. Somebody who did play it safe was Warner Bros., but we’ll get to that at the end of the show.
Eric: [laughs] Well, one statement that’s apparent in many if not all of these Harry Potter cast and crew statements is trans women are women, trans men are men. Something as simple as that line far exceeds the level to which J.K. Rowling is willing to go. In her long 3,700-word response, she does not once allow trans people the dignity of saying anything as direct as that one line, and that’s huge to me.
Sarah: Yeah, she gets close at some points, and then she just flies in a different direction. I’m like, “You were almost there. Keyword almost.” [laughs]
Eric: It’s almost as if by saying that line, that it’s a rebuke to J.K. Rowling’s whole point, to everything that she’s doing. I mean, the fact that these stars spoke out is not a coincidence. It’s because it needed to be spoken, because people are in pain, because people are hurting.
Andrew: Trans people need our support, yeah. So let’s talk about this article. She posted this on JKRowling.com under the headline “J.K. Rowling writes about her reasons for speaking out on sex and gender issues.” I just want to point out first that there is not a single link and only two citations in this entire 3,000+ word blog post, and I find that very irresponsible because she is sharing a lot of information. You really have to step back for a second to think about why she is not linking to her sources.
Micah: In addition to publishing this, she did put it out on Twitter and the only words that were utilized in the tweet were “TERF wars.” And I wonder, Sarah, can you just explain what a TERF is? Because I think probably a lot of our listeners aren’t aware of what that term means.
Sarah: Yeah, so TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, and TERF is a word used when people are excluding trans people from feminism and not acknowledging trans existence. I mean, TERF is discussed by TERFs as being a slur. It’s actually kinder than I think it should be. For those who follow feminism and the different waves of feminism, not just understand that feminism is a thing, radical feminism is not really what most TERFs are doing. It is used as a descriptor, and it is describing the statements that are being made. But a lot of people who are called TERFs pretend as though it is a slur, especially as though it is a slur against cis women, and that will come up a lot in the statement.
Eric: When we had Rori Porter on, she told us that TERF was actually a term created by that movement, that it was not in fact, as J.K. Rowling claims in her article, coined by trans activists.
Sarah: I think it actually might be. I don’t remember the origin of TERF, but that would not surprise me if that were true. Because again, a lot of people… they’re not radical feminists. And so it is a bit of a weird thing that I think trans activists would pick up on more, and so that makes a lot more sense in the history of the term.
Laura: Sarah, I wanted to ask if you think this could be a fair historical comparison in an earlier wave of feminism. Before any of us were born, feminism – or at least mainstream feminism – did not include lesbians, for example.
Laura: Is that a similar sort of thing that’s happening here with trans-exclusionary radical feminism?
Sarah: A little bit. So yeah, there used to be… I mean, I think a lot of what it comes down to is feminism; there are many waves. There are many scholars and historical activists and people involved in feminism, and they think different things, which is why there’s different strands of feminism. And so a lot of what TERFs are relying on is essentialism arguments. And so what essentialism is… I mean, hopefully, exactly as it sounds like, that there is an innate womanhood. This is what it is, and that’s it. And so essentialism itself is not very widely utilized, or highly regarded in a lot of scholarship anymore. There are obviously some people that still hold essentialist views, but we’re not really there. A lot of scholarship is discussing social constructionism, which is “Gender is a construct,” you might have heard before. That’s where that comes from. And so that’s the other issue that Andrew already brought up. I mean, she doesn’t cite her sources, but also, she’s going into lots of different waves, and so you can’t follow her argument. Even if she cited it, she would probably… let’s pretend that this was a peer-reviewed journal, and if that were the case, she would be citing so many contradictory people that it would never get published. Every reviewer would be like, “You can’t have this person’s thoughts and this person’s thoughts together. They think different things.” [laughs]
Andrew: Right, right. And there are a lot of statements in this blog post that contradict each other. I mean, just on their face, I found it really irresponsible. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to kind of treat this like a Chapter by Chapter segment. [laughs] I think we’re going to pull out some quotes and dive into our reactions to them and why they’re wrong. And in the show… look, we could spend – seriously, I’m not joking – six hours talking about this, but we’re going to try to do it in 30-45 minutes.
Eric: Here’s the thing. I read this and my overall impression, coming away… I initially saw that she had written a post on her website. I said, “Thank God, we’re finally going to get her opinion on this, and I’m finally going to be able to understand,” because Twitter is not the best way. Everybody knows Twitter is not the best way to communicate. Everybody knows that. But after reading this article – it’s very long – I read it and I came away going, “Huh, okay, J.K. Rowling is not a bad person. She’s just really, really, really concerned about the state of current the politics and gender identity and all that stuff.” And I came away, and I walked away going, “She’s just really concerned about this.” And it’s almost like that new meme where you’re reading something and you go “checks notes.” It’s like, “Okay, so J.K. Rowling is a nice person. She just – checks notes – is afraid that transgender women are going to violate women’s spaces in the bathrooms and attack women?” It almost doesn’t…
Sarah: Which, for the record, never happens.
Eric: Yeah, when transgender women have problems in the bathroom, it’s because cis people are uncomfortable with them being there, and cis people are the instigators of many of these reported results. I’ve done some research after this. But is that the major theme of this, then? Because it’s hidden behind a lot of “I feel” statements, which we’re inclined to sympathize with because it’s J.K. Rowling, the woman who we’ve regarded for so long. But I myself, I hate how much I was swayed at first by what seemed to be a really concerned woman with a lot of legitimate concerns about the world today.
Sarah: And that’s something that will come up a lot through different quotes that we highlight. She uses a lot of common logical fallacies in order to trap you in that, and the way that… I mean, it works well because not a lot of people are experts in this. Not even a lot of trans people are. And so there are… I was reached out by some trans people when I was posting on Twitter about this. Not all trans people even disagree with J.K. Rowling. Most do. But this is something that I think absolutely, it is very easy to fall into the very pretty language that she used to construct her argument, and she leads you in the direction she wants to lead you.
Andrew: And she tries to be friendly and funny at points too.
Sarah: Yeah, and it’s condescending. [laughs]
Eric: It seems so manipulative.
Micah: I think, yeah, it goes back to even when we were talking about the tweets earlier on the surface level. If that’s all you’re reading at, you can walk away and not necessarily feel one way or the other, or not understand what the whole to-do is about. But I wanted to start off at the beginning here because I think it’s interesting to see how she first got involved with even thinking about trans issues. And in her open letter, she says that it was really professional. She said, “On one level, my interest in this issue has been professional, because I’m writing a crime series -“ she’s referring to the Cormoran Strike series, “- set in the present day, and my fictional female detective -“ whose name is Robin “- is of an age to be interested in, and affected by, these issues herself.” And I’ve read all the Cormoran Strike novels to date. My question was, “Affected in what respect?” We know at least in one of the books, this character encounters another character in The Silkworm, and the character that’s encountered, her name is Pippa. She’s a transgender woman undergoing therapy ahead of gender reassignment surgery. And again, I don’t think we need to jump in necessarily to the story, but this seems to have been her entry point into having conversations and learning about the trans community.
Eric: I mean, I love this quote, to be “of an age to be interested in.” What age is that exactly, to be affected by transgenderism? Because trans folks are affected by this their whole lives. So what level of privilege is this right here?
Sarah: So what she’s talking about… and this is, again, another through point, so I’ll talk more about this later, because this is… one of the main sources that she cited is Lisa Littman. And this is a huge… Lisa’s peer-reviewed publication came out in 2018 and then was republished in 2019, but the thing that is most used in TERF spaces is what is known as rapid-onset gender dysphoria. And so what this is referring to – which, again, is not clear if you hadn’t already read the publication before the statement as I had – it is talking about how teenagers huddle up in teenage groups and all become trans.
Andrew: I could not believe that.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s quite a lot. So again, there’s a lot of points of this. I want to discuss it later when she actually discusses this as evidence because it’s one of the only things that she uses, but have it be known, most of the language, if it seems weird or particular, a lot of it is really referring to this one publication, which is ridiculous.
Andrew: And also, J.K. Rowling does not have to have this type of storyline in her books. She’s acting like, “Oh, because it’s set in present day, I just have to research this and have to include it.” No, you don’t. You’re still writing a fictional world.
Eric: Well, and not to mention the character of Pippa is like, the world’s worst stereotype of transgender women. And Cormoran himself threatens Pippa with rape, prison rape.
Sarah: I didn’t know that. I’ve never read this. But what I was about to say is that I’m sure that even in her “research,” it’s not even accurate, because I mean, there is no minimum therapy requirement to receive a therapeutic support letter for gender reassignment surgery, or what we know as gender affirmation surgeries. And so my assumption is that this book writes about it in very outdated terms that aren’t common ethical practice right now. So… ooh, yikes. A lot of yikes.
Micah: Yeah, I’m sure we could definitely do an entire episode just digging into these issues as they pertain specifically to The Silkworm, but wanted to highlight another quote that she had in her open letter, one that was almost digging for sympathy, I would say. And she said, “What I didn’t expect in the aftermath of my cancellation -“ and she’s talking about her Twitter cancellation “- was the avalanche of emails and letters that came showering down upon me, the overwhelming majority of which were positive, grateful, and supportive. They came from a cross-section of kind, empathetic, and intelligent people, some of them working in fields dealing with gender dysphoria and trans people, who’re all deeply concerned about the way a socio-political concept is influencing politics, medical practice, and safeguarding.”
Andrew: She really wanted to let us know that some people are on her side, and yeah, okay, great. When you have 14 million followers on Twitter, I would expect some people to agree with you. Congratulations.
Sarah: But if you’re not going to name people, though… “influencing politics, medical practice, and safeguarding.” Who we talking about? Are they actually people that are credible and are well-known for working within the space? And what I am viewing this whole thing as is if J.K. Rowling isn’t talking about it, I am assuming that either she is not actually hearing from these people, or she is hearing from people that are not very credible, because of the times when someone does seem credible – again, such as Lisa Littman – she discusses in great detail who this person is. She is very name-droppy about it.
Sarah: And so I don’t buy it. This isn’t correct.
Eric: Yeah, I saw on Twitter, this quote, “Working in fields dealing with gender dysphoria.” Somebody said, “Yeah, like a bathroom architect could claim to work in this field.”
[Micah and Sarah laugh]
Eric: Are those people emailing Jo? Who’s emailing Jo? But what bothers me the most about this is she says that all of these people are kind, empathetic, intelligent. If they saw what she posted on Twitter in December, which is “Live how you like, dress how you like, feel the way you want to feel” in that very standoffish gender cancellation, trans cancellation tweet, how could anybody respond to that going, “Yeah, Jo, you’re right”? How are those empathetic, kind people? Because she was spewing hate when people replied to that. So what about it makes them kind and empathetic?
Laura: They agree with her. It’s honestly just a better-worded version of the “Many people are saying” argument that we hear a lot nowadays.
Micah: It also in a way has an underlying implication that those who are in opposition to her are not kind, empathetic, or intelligent.
Sarah: Yeah, which she directly says later in the statement. And so yeah, she is painting a picture, and this is the picture that she’s painting. I don’t know why she’s choosing to paint this.
Andrew: She also said, “I’d stepped back from Twitter for many months both before and after tweeting support for Maya, because I knew it was doing nothing good for my mental health.” That is something we suspected, and look, we understand Twitter can be a bad, dark place. And then she says, “Ironically, radical feminists aren’t even trans-exclusionary – they include trans men in their feminism, because they were born women.”
Andrew: Sarah, what is wrong with this?
Sarah: No, they weren’t. They were assigned female at birth. And also, widely known about feminism: not just about women. The patriarchy affects men and women. And so this was one of the funnier things to me when reading the statement, was how when she was trying to paint her argument, she accidentally said the exact transphobic thing she’s being accused of instead of her flowery language. Yeah, if you are calling trans men “women,” that is the point. That is the problem with everything you are thinking.
Eric: But that goes in line with what she said about people who menstruate are women, right?
Sarah: Yeah. And I mean, that isn’t even true, medically. There are lots of cis women who don’t menstruate, either by choice through birth control, or through a medical issue where they have to have surgery done. They have polycystic ovarian syndrome. There are lots of legitimate reasons where women don’t menstruate.
Eric: Oh, not to mention postmenopausal women as well, our grandmothers.
Sarah: Yeah, exactly. And there are also lots of men who menstruate. A lot of people don’t understand how transition works, but it is very common for trans men either to menstruate continuously while on testosterone, or to have issues with hormone levels where it comes back for a period of time. I have three trans men that I’m working with right now that this is currently an issue that they are going to doctors about, and they’re not quite sure what happened with their levels or if their prescription needs to be changed or something in life, but their period just returned. This is just incorrect. And also, a lot of cis women don’t view that as helpful. When you just say womanhood is about menstruation, we have a lot of historical issues with women who experience infertility not being included in womanhood. And so she is saying that she wants to be supported in her womanhood, but she’s not even including all women in that because there are lots of cis women who would probably feel better with the opinion article titled as it was, because it doesn’t call into question their womanhood for not bleeding.
Laura: It also just feels like a strange hill to die on to say that womanhood is defined by menstruation, because anyone who’s ever experienced menstruation knows that it’s not something that is societally celebrated.
Andrew: Yeah, you don’t love it, right? It’s not like, a party.
Sarah: It’s also medically damaging. Endometriosis is a huge issue that a lot more women face than we have diagnosed that they are facing. And a lot of times women will go to the ER or go schedule doctor appointments to discuss endometriosis symptoms, and will be told that they are exaggerating or they’re being hysterical or that this isn’t what’s happening. And so this is like… no one’s paying attention to this anyway. [laughs]
Laura: In her statement she moves on to say, “Accusations of TERFery have been sufficient to intimidate many people, institutions, and organizations I once admired, who’re cowering before the tactics of the playground. […] What’s next, they’ll say you’ve got fleas? 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…” I don’t know that word.
Sarah: Dimorphic, yeah.
Laura: Okay. [laughs] “… aren’t dimorphic species.”
Micah: This is where – I think, Andrew, you mentioned it earlier – she tries to get a little cute. She tries to be funny, and it just doesn’t resonate. Honestly, for me, I read that and I was just completely confused.
Andrew: My brain shorted out here too. I think she’s trying to confuse us. [laughs]
Sarah: Andrew, you’re mostly right that she is trying to confuse you. She is. It is mind-boggling how many wrong things were said. I don’t know if any of you watch Schitt’s Creek, but I’ve never heard someone say so many wrong things in a row consecutively. First of all, we’ve already discussed “biological woman” and that not being an affirmative term. So what she means is being cisgender, which is the word that we use if you were assigned female at birth and identify as a woman. She’s continuing to again use a logical fallacy. This is a slippery slope argument. And she is using this to make trans-affirmation look moronic for people who do not understand what trans-affirmation actually is, and so she is being very deliberate in talking about clownfish and saying that we think that you can literally grow a pair. No, no one says any of that. And this is another place that… for people who understand more about trans activism and also TERF spaces, she is using a lot of TERF language. Some of the examples, we’re not going to talk about all them in quotes, but you can look through the statement [laughs] if you feel you must. So “gender critical women” is a very TERF term; discussing the category, the gender, as women, men, and trans people; discussing “natal” girls; discussing rapid-onset gender dysphoria. Those are terms you only see if you are on TERF Twitter, or in TERF spaces. And so those are other reasons that we know that the sources that she’s supposedly reading are not legitimate. These are not terms that are scholarly; these are terms that are almost exclusively used in transphobic spaces and publications and blogs.
Eric: And they run up against science.
Andrew: So if you don’t want to be called a TERF, don’t use TERF language out of the TERF dictionary. It’s kind of that simple. So now let’s move on to the BuzzFeed portion of the article; she laid out the top five reasons why she’s speaking out.
Eric: This article is all over the place.
Sarah: It really is.
Eric: There’s a listicle in here!
Micah: I know that there’s been a lot of troubling things that have already been said, but I think it gets even more so as we move into this top five because there’s so many things that are conflated together that really… I understand for her there’s connections, but the conclusions that she ultimately draws, I think, are a little bit discomforting.
Andrew: And she calls this “the new trans activism,” but Sarah, you take issue with that, right?
Sarah: Yeah, this isn’t new. I mean, we are seeing now with a lot of the Black Lives Matter movement and a lot of intersectionality with that, people are becoming very well-acquainted that Stonewall was started by black trans women. This has always been the case. Trans women and trans men and trans issues are intertwined with a lot of queer history. And to this point, the “like” incidents that she had actually showed you even more how exclusionary and transphobic her beliefs are, because she publicly acknowledged through liking the tweet of a gay activist, whose name is Fred Sargeant, who was a veteran of the Stonewall riots, and a “first Pride organizer and an early contributor to the first draft of the gay agenda,” according to his Twitter bio, and he is a fierce advocate of exclusion of transgender people from the LGBTQ community. And he says, “It’s time to remove the T from same-sex advocacy groups. Trans has nothing to do with us and we owe them nothing.” So I’m just going to leave that there for you.
Micah: Let’s take a look here at the five reasons why she’s speaking out. The first is related to her charitable trust, which is focused on alleviating social deprivation with an emphasis on both women and children. She says, “Among other things, my trust supports projects for female prisoners and for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. I also fund medical research into MS, a disease that behaves very differently in men and women. It’s been clear to me for a while that the new trans activism is having (or is likely to have, if all its demands are met) 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.”
Laura: And we felt this was a good time to talk about what the proposed changes to the Scottish Gender Recognition Act would look like, because after you read this, it makes me wonder what she’s talking about in the preamble to these recommendations. It says, “The Scottish Government’s proposals to reform the 2004 Act will not make any changes to the Equality Act of 2010. […] This means that single sex services are protected as are single sex employment rights and health services.” According to this, Scotland is not looking to make the kinds of changes that she claims the trans community is trying to push for. Additionally, I wanted to point out that the reason that Scotland is looking to update its Gender Recognition Act is because the World Health Organization has actually updated its definition of gender identity. So according to the World Health Organization, gender identity disorders are no longer listed in the “Mental and behavioral disorders” chapter, and are now in the new “Conditions related to sexual health” chapter. So this is twofold. Scotland is looking to take down some of the barriers that in the past made it more difficult for people to have their gender recognized, but at the same time, they’re also working to be compliant with the World Health Organization.
Micah: This would have been a perfect opportunity for her, though – we talked about it earlier in the episode – to include a link to provide people with a reference point for this Gender Recognition bill in Scotland, because without having this available to us without one of our listeners sending it in, I don’t think we would have the same context.
Eric: Yeah, we’re going to take her word for it. She wants us to take her word for it. And even though I read this for the first time, and I was like, “Oh, she’s really concerned,” I did get the sense that there was some kind of boogeyman in the background of all of her writing.
Sarah: There was one point where she discussed a certificate, and I remember reading that and being like, “What is she talking about? What certificate is this? And what does she think she’s talking about? What’s going on?” And I didn’t know that this was happening. I mean, there are always policy changes happening, trying to limit trans healthcare everywhere, and so I should have assumed that there was something happening. But the certificate that she talks about later is directly from this proposed act, and it made it abundantly clear to me, and I then reread the statement through that lens. And a lot of the language that she uses is… essentially, she is trying to talk to politicians, trying to lobby for her side of this, and we were just thrown along for the ride without our consent.
Micah: Or just without any context or knowledge as to what this is all about. But the next reason that she gave is that she is an ex-teacher and a founder of a children’s charity, so another charitable foundation position coming from J.K. Rowling here, giving her an interest in education and safeguarding. Safeguarding against what?
Eric: Huh, here we go. Yeah, it’s all about not teaching our kids that they can be who they say they are, right? It’s all about teaching our kids to be the children that we want them to be.
Sarah: So many things like this that are written about marginalized folk pretend that those people don’t exist, and that they aren’t reading this right now. When you are a teacher, you are teaching some people who are cisgender and some people who are trans. So who are we safeguarding?
Laura: Sounds more like gatekeeping.
Andrew: Point three, freedom of speech.
Laura: Yeah, so this was an interesting one. And we’ve actually gotten some commentary from a few folks pointing out we can’t attack J.K. Rowling’s right to free speech. I would just observe – and I mean, I’m speaking from a purely American perspective – we have some documentation here about what free speech looks like in the UK. But freedom of speech, just as a rule, does not mean freedom from consequences, does not mean freedom from other people’s speech. So just as J.K. Rowling can say whatever she wants, we are allowed to respond how we want.
Andrew: Yeah, a lot of people seem to be conveniently forgetting that.
Laura: Yeah, well, it’s a really common thing that happens in this country where people like to lean on freedom of speech, and they forget that the First Amendment protects you from the government, not from private citizens or businesses. So when you put something out into the universe, you have the right to do that, at least in this country, as long as it’s not something like yelling “Fire” in a crowded room, for example. People have every right to respond to that with their own free speech, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here.
Eric: This third reason is two sentences long and she mentions Donald Trump. That’s one of the one of the few names she drops in this paper, is Donald Trump. “I’m interested in freedom of speech and have publicly defended it, even unto Donald Trump.” Okay, thanks, Jo.
Laura: Also, just wanted to point out there could be a different classification of this in the UK. None of us here are experts on free speech in the UK and what exactly it means and the legalities behind this, but we did want to include this: “The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions, or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, […] public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others.” So that is from the Human Rights Act of 1998.
Andrew: All right, let’s move on to this fourth point. This is a big one: concern about the numbers of people who are detransitioning. So in other words, these people are deciding to transition, in J.K. Rowling’s opinion, sometimes too early, and then they change their minds. And according to her, studies have consistently shown that between 60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria. Sarah, fact or fiction?
Sarah: [laughs] This is wild. No, no, no.
Sarah: Yeah, this is absolutely incorrect. So here are some of the things that we do know about how gender dysphoria works. And I want to be very clear with this, we don’t have many studies directly researching this. And part of that is, again, because this is a marginalized group, and a lot of research is done through grants, and this is not always grant-funded research. But also, in order to understand this methodologically, you would need to do longitudinal studies, and we have not. And so these numbers are crazy. But what we do know is that there was a study done in 1993, which seems like a long time ago, but scholarly, it’s not actually considered that long ago, in terms of this kind of research. And so regrets about transitioning were extremely rare; they found that 1-1.5% of male-to-female trans women, and under 1% of trans men, so female-to-male, regretted transitioning. And further, there was a 2012 trans mental health study, which found when we talk about regrets, and trans people say that they have regrets. Most of the time they are regretting not transitioning sooner, wanted to use a different surgeon, having a complication from surgery, having a work issue arise from coming out… they are not discussing that they don’t want to transition or they regret transitioning in general. And so this is just absolutely false, what she is throwing out.
Eric: This 1993 study says 1-1.5%. That is not 60-90% of people.
Sarah: Yeah. And also, if you say… again, I just keep pretending if this was a peer-reviewed journal, because it makes me laugh every time. That would be so hard. They would just be like, “This is not… how did you get such a crazy number? 60-90 is such a range. This isn’t anything.”
Andrew: It’s a big range.
Sarah: Yeah, this wouldn’t be published. [laughs]
Micah: Because on one end, you’re almost saying 100% of the people, and that’s…
Andrew: Yeah. [laughs] It’s insane.
Laura: And I also wanted to point out just from the political side of things, just given the fact that it seems likely that this is where at least part of her concerns lie, according to the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland, the act of 2004, nobody under the age of 18 can apply for legal gender recognition. The proposed changes to the act say that they may consider lowering that age to 16, so they’re going to seek views about doing that. But certainly, even if this proposal were to be accepted, nobody under the age of 16 would be able to do this. Currently, the age is 18. So it makes me wonder where she’s getting this concern about gender dysphoric children and teens being able to apply for legal gender recognition too early, because it doesn’t seem that the law would allow for it.
Sarah: Yeah. And I have points to discuss a bit later as we get more into quotes that she says that touch more on this, but a lot of gender affirmation procedures and options are done on an informed consent basis, which means you are an adult; you are an autonomous person with agency over your own body. It is my job as the healthcare professional to explain to you what you are engaging in, and then that is it. It is not my job to tell you whether or not you are or are not trans, you will or will not regret this, and lots of adults do things that they regret sometimes. So yes, some people do detransition; that is not a zero. And so that is life. People regret tattoos, people regret other surgeries, people regret marriages. Sometimes you regret something.
Andrew: Right. But she’s so flippant with it; she says, “Oh, so many people are detransitioning,” as if these people did not put a lot of thought into this. And we referenced this earlier; she said that teen girls just get together on a Friday night, and instead of braiding each other’s hair and playing board games or whatever they’re doing, gossiping about boys, they all get together and they say, “You know what? Let’s all change our gender.” In what world does that happen? Certainly not on this planet. And I find it so offensive that she would just be so flippant with that kind of idea. And also, reminds me of this passage a little later, where she says, “I can’t help but wonder if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition.” J.K. Rowling, this is not a light decision that people take. They don’t make it to avoid physical abuse, they’re making it because they feel deep within them that they are not the biological sex that they were born with.
Sarah: Yeah, and it’s something that, from the mental health point of view… and again, this is as an American experience, and so it is different in the UK. Some of it is more streamlined; that makes it in a lot of ways harder to get a hold of. Getting, I guess “registered” is not the right word that they would use, but getting involved with a gender clinic makes it so that way your procedures are covered, but it also can be a huge waitlist. And so as an American and working in healthcare, you have to do a lot of work. And what we are fighting for, and what J.K. Rowling is I think unintentionally fighting against, is we are not trying to necessarily make it “easier” just for the sake of making it easier. But it’s tied to knowledge; it’s tied to research. What is happening now, because we are having all these policy limitations on trans-affirmative care, is it allows professionals to not be knowledgeable of what gender dysphoria looks like, how to treat it, and how it presents. And that is what is killing people. And so when you are working in mental health for trans people, there is an ethical standard that we are supposed to follow called the WPATH Standards of Care. WPATH is the World Professional Association of Transgender Health. It’s available for free online; you can look it up. It’s like a 120 page PDF, but it has a pretty good table of contents, so you can look around. But there are discussions like, “This is what healthcare professionals or therapists in this case are supposed to help you with,” explaining how to work through the systems of oppression, to know what’s going on. And I have worked with several clients that have thought they were trans and realized it was something else. And it’s something that I introduce readily to them that you can be questioning, you can know that there’s something up, but there’s a lack of language, there’s a lack of research. And because of that, you cannot exactly know what is happening or what you want to do, especially because we have this in such binary terms. And so sometimes what that looks like is someone comes in and they believe that they are a trans guy and that they need to do all of medical transition, become “complete,” a lot of people will use that language, and then they’ll realize that “Oh, no. I want testosterone, yes. I want top surgery, yes. But I don’t need bottom surgery,” or “I don’t need to change my name. I don’t need to change my gender marker here.” As I discuss this with clients, it’s as if you’re entering a buffet, and you have a choice of what things you choose at that buffet. And if J.K. Rowling was in therapy… also, it doesn’t need to be 30 years later. Trans people existed 30 years ago. You just needed to find someone who was informed on this. And right now, because of the policy limitations, people are not informed, and it is making it harder for trans people to find educated providers for them to explain what’s going on, to help them see what’s going on, and also, just medically to still do the tests that they need. There are lots of times that trans people will go into a medical office or the ER and request something like, again, a hysterectomy or a prostate exam, and they will be denied that because they will believe that they do not need that. And that kind of flippant response is what we’re fighting against here and what we’re hoping to alleviate by educating people further.
Andrew: Let’s complete her listicle here, though. Point five was that she shared her personal experiences with domestic abuse and sexual assault. And of course, that is absolutely awful; we are so sorry to hear that. She notes that this is the first time she’s speaking so openly about this. She also got permission from her daughter to share her story. But she says this is one of the reasons why she felt the need to speak out.
Eric: Yeah, here’s a quote that she sounds really understanding of the situation at large. She says, “I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of color, are at particular risk. Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men. So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any men who believe or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.” Sarah, is that the simple truth?
[Andrew and Sarah laugh]
Eric: She’s seeming so understanding. That whole thing about how trans women are so at risk, it seems to… she’s doing my head in here.
Andrew: The bathroom argument is so darn stupid, and this has come up in America multiple times as well. The bathrooms for women and men, public restrooms, are unlocked. Guys can get in there and be total you-know-whats, awful people if they really want to; they do not need to transition in order to do that. I think this bathroom argument is just so stupid, and it gets brought up so often. A bathroom door with a women’s sign on it is not going to stop men from being predators.
Eric: Don’t we also think that trans women are more at risk if they use a men’s room, if they’ve transitioned?
Andrew and Sarah: Yes.
Sarah: I mean, so this is something that lots of trans people will consciously think about before they leave their house, is how long they’re going to be gone, whether or not they’re going to need to use a restroom while they’re gone, how close they’re going to be to home. Because the bathroom debates that are happening make it unsafe for trans women to use the men or women’s restroom; also make it unsafe for trans men to use the men or women’s restroom. There are lots of times… the abuse that happens is to trans people, where some person is trying to police them. And I mean, it is scary. Think about how scary that would be, if you are just trying to use the restroom, especially if you really need to use the restroom, and then you were just being yelled at, or the manager is being called on you, or the police are being called on you. And that is what happens to a lot of trans people. And I mean, in her fifth point… and I know that there’s been a lot of things that have happened since then, about J.K. Rowling’s history of abuse and discussing it in terms of… I think The Sun is the publication that…
Eric: Which, I’m going to come right out and condemn that. That was the worst display of anything. And it’s very easy to say that that is the absolute worst thing that could have come from this tabloid.
Sarah: No, that was appalling. But it becomes clear, and quite honestly, I think J.K. Rowling is proving through this piece, she really needs therapy. This is something that she very casually, and again, tries to make a joke of. It’s a common family running gag, like my jumpiness. That is PTSD. And I’m not diagnosing her, but I’m saying that there are a lot of things that she wrote that are upsetting, and I hope that she gets help for it. And she discusses at different places, so she discusses abuse and she discusses her coming to terms with femininity for herself. As Harry Potter fans, I just want to say I’ve been rereading Order of the Phoenix with a reading group during quarantine, and in that book in particular, but through all the books, she shows a lot of internalized misogyny. There are a lot of issues with how she presents femininity, and she reserves her comments about femininity for villains. She talks about it for Umbridge, talks about it for Parvati and Lavender… she needs to work through this, and I hope that she works through this and she finds some professional help.
Eric: Well, and let’s not forget how she deals with Umbridge – how the kids relieved Umbridge from the school – is by savage violence against Umbridge. It’s definitely ringing some bells.
Laura: Something that I would just like to bring up again, from the Scottish Gender Recognition Act, currently applicants must live, and this is from the act itself, this is the language from it, applicants must have lived in their acquired gender for a minimum of two years currently, in Scotland, before they can apply for a gender recognition certificate. The proposed change to the act would reduce that period to three months, after which they can apply for the certificate. And after their application is accepted, they would have to go through a three-month reflection period before proceeding. So the way that she’s presenting this argument, it’s as though once somebody has that gender recognition certificate, they can go into any bathroom they want, as though somebody who has the aim to assault somebody would go through a six-month period to get their certificate, and then show up at the bathroom being like, “I have my certificate now.” No, that’s not how any of this works.
Andrew: Of course not.
Eric: There’s just no evidence. There’s just no evidence of this occurring.
Andrew: Well, and the other thing is, think about these men who would want to do that. Do you think they would want to be trans people? No, so they wouldn’t take that on either. Somebody who’s transitioning doesn’t want to go through the burden of being judged and mistreated for this either. A lot of this just reminds me of the gay rights movement. LGBT, we’re all looped together, because this is not a choice. And we don’t want to go through the pain and the hurt and the prejudice that comes along with coming out, and for J.K. Rowling to act like this is an easy process is just really offensive.
Sarah: Yeah. And it’s really… I don’t want to get into the weeds of it, but it is really not easy. And it is expensive, it is time consuming, it is stressful. It’s not an easy process as it is, and so trying to make it harder is inhumane.
Micah: One of the things that stood out to me, too, was when she says, “Again and again I’ve been told to ‘just meet some trans people,'” and then she goes into, “Well, I have, and dot dot dot,” but it just reminds me of when people will always say, “Oh, well, just meet a few gay people, meet a few Black people, meet a few Jewish peoples,” like somehow that solves the problem. It’s not just a matter of meeting; you have to listen, you have to have conversation, you have to get… that’s the only way that you’re going to get a better understanding of what is going on.
Andrew: Yeah, she’s not listening. That’s the problem.
Sarah: It was especially clear… she ends all of this by discussing that she’s asking for empathy, and that to be extended to her and the millions of women. And many people have tried to be empathetic to her and open up dialogues, and she has blocked them on Twitter. She closed replies to this post. Her request is being granted, and she is actively avoiding it and actively shutting it down, and so that’s not what she’s asking.
Laura: Not to mention the number of LGBT affirming groups that have reached out and offered to have closed door conversations with her. She has denied those offers.
Andrew: Yeah, she doesn’t want to hear it. The last point, Sarah, you wanted to bring up.
Sarah: As we talked about already, she didn’t cite almost any sources, but there was one that she did. And so she discussed Lisa Littman, and I’m not going to get too into it. I think it’ll be in the show notes. I wrote a piece discussing, scholarly, what’s going on in her statement. But briefly, Lisa Litman wrote a paper, again in 2018, and then it was taken down and republished because of some concerns methodologically and through expertise, like expert reviewers coming in again, of what she was discussing. But she hypothesized the idea of rapid-onset gender dysphoria, which, as I discussed, has taken off like wildfire in a lot of TERF spaces. And so what rapid-onset gender dysphoria essentially is, is that teenagers are getting together and they’re all transitioning, and so it’s that “transtrender” that we might have heard before.
Andrew: Yeah. Woo! This transition party, Saturday night with the girls, let’s do it.
Sarah: Scientifically, this is not something… I mean, as a scholar, I don’t think it’s going to take off very much. There are a lot of methodological concerns. But the purpose of the study in and of itself was not to test anything; this was exploratory. And within scholarship, exploratory research is to come up with ideas for other scholars to test and to see if the hypothesis is accurate and if it stands up to rigor. And so the fact that TERFs are using this as key elements to make grand sweeping statements shows a lack of understanding of how science works, and a lack of understanding of what Lisa was trying to do in this publication. And she just has another point where she talks about a psychiatrist, I believe in his resignation letter, which, weird thing to quote is someone’s resignation letter. But she also goes back and forth several times, which is also how you can tell that she doesn’t really have a point to make. She isn’t clear in what she’s talking about. And so some of the things that she does, she discusses early on that in the UK, they have seen a 4,400% increase in trans men, which is a wild number. I wonder where she got that. So essentially, what that means is that this is a concern mostly of trans men, and then she spends this entire manifesto discussing trans women. And then she goes on to say that she believes that the majority of trans people are not a threat, and that they are also vulnerable, deserve protection. And so just doing some quick math here, I don’t know how many numbers she is talking about. She keeps making these grand accusations. But when she gets down into it, she is making it clear that she knows that she’s not talking about very many, if any at all. And so just pay attention to that as well, because that’s something that is used in a lot of transphobic arguments. Trans women, more often they’re at risk for hate crimes. Just this week, we have had two trans people of color killed in 24 hours, brutally killed; one of them was dismembered. And that also wasn’t news until four days later. Think about how wild that is. Someone was dismembered, and that wasn’t news for days. And so oftentimes when we discuss transphobia, we are discussing trans women as threats, and we are trying to ignore trans men as existing in this. And she is falling into that, even after explicitly stating a 4,400% increase in trans men in the UK.
Andrew: As you’re saying, she’s all over the place. And I’ve been thinking in the back of my head about her timing. It almost seems like she rushed out this blog post. I mean, she made those tweets Saturday night; she published this Wednesday morning, and this is over 3,000 words. Like we’ve said, there’s a lot of information in here. Part of me wonders if she’d been writing this in her head since December, so maybe she was able to punch it out quick. But it does seem like she should have taken more time to research all this, maybe provide a few more links, and maybe think this through, because as you’re saying, it is all over the place.
Laura: Well, and also, I think that when you are voicing something that you think is a problem, the onus is on you to provide a solution. There’s nothing more annoying to me than when people come to the table to complain about something, and then they have no proposal as to how they think it could be better addressed. So she’s saying, “The majority of trans people are not a threat, and they’re also vulnerable and deserve protection.” Okay, if not legal gender recognition by the government, then what? What protection are you talking about?
Eric: There was an element – I think you guys discussed on Millennial – about whether or not J.K. Rowling is salvageable, whether her views can be changed. Do we want to touch on that at all?
Andrew: I don’t think her views can be changed. She makes it very clear in this letter that she is not going to back down. I mean, she literally says that. She’s at a point in her life and her career where she is very successful; she does not need to change. Why bother? Why bother?
Sarah: And by turning down closed door conversations, I mean, this is willful ignorance at this part. She cannot claim that she just hasn’t had the opportunity. And something that I discuss with a lot of people when they’re having these kinds of conversations of activism and of social justice is really recognizing whether or not someone’s teachable and whether or not you should try to teach them, and she is holding up every sign saying that she ain’t listening. She is not teachable.
Eric: I’m glad you brought that up because I asked my therapist about this. I was bothered by J.K. Rowling’s thing. And he said that, “Well, it seems that this exclusion that J.K. Rowling is perpetuating seems to be fear-based, right? She’s telling us that she’s afraid of what’s happening to women and bathrooms. She’s afraid.” And my therapist, to his credit, said, “That’s actually a little bit more approachable or more solvable than if J.K. Rowling were approaching this from a position of nihilism or hate-based exclusion, which is fear plus the certainty that it’s right to exclude these people.”
Sarah: Yeah. I don’t think your therapist is wrong. So that goes, again, back into, I think, there’s a very clear cry for help in this manifesto. And in order to change, she needs to do some work on herself, and she needs to work through clearly some really deep trauma that she is coming to light with, and that she’s probably been sitting with and wrestling with internally for a while. And until and unless she does that work in her own therapy, no one is going to teach her. This fear is based in her needing to work through her own mental health.
Micah: It’s clear that there’s this deep personal struggle that’s going on within J.K. Rowling. Is there any validity to some of her concerns? Because I think people who are listening to this show are going to ask that question, who are going to read the letter or go on social media. Is there anything that can be taken away from what she’s saying that is actually valid?
Sarah: I mean, she wrote a lot of words, and so probably a little, but not whole points. She never makes a full statement that is correct. And so she has glimmers of other arguments or other things that she could suppose, and so for example, one thing that is potentially an idea that can flourish is the idea of the lived experience of being socialized as female, and that being a reality, and so having safe spaces, having women-only spaces. But that is not something that is as she is wording it, because I have to convince trans women that I work with that they are allowed to go into all-women’s spaces. They know that you don’t want them there, and so trans people are notorious in many ways to be catering to cis feelings. And they do that sometimes unintentionally, I believe, just again, because of internalized transphobia and how the world is operating. But also because of fear. They are so at risk of violence; they are so disproportionately at risk for hate crimes, that they are very observant of their surroundings. And so they do not approach things if it is going to be harmful to them. And so, yes, there is some need sometimes; I can see for there to be spaces for people who are socialized as female to be able to get together, but there are also ways around that that aren’t just ignoring trans people or saying that trans people are taking up too much space. It is we don’t socialize our children in a gendered way. If we, again, worked with feminism and tried to tackle the system of the patriarchy, we wouldn’t need those safe spaces in those ways.
Micah: Yeah, the second part of that question was, we talked a lot about rushing to judgment at the top of the show; a lot of people think that that’s what we’re doing. But in terms of flipping to the other side of the coin, and people who will just go and say, “#IStandWithJKR,” right? We’ve gotten emails about that; we’ve seen tweets about that. What does that mean? And why should people be careful about just jumping to that conclusion?
Sarah: Yeah. When you say that you stand with JKR, again, if you are supporting this opinion, what does that actually mean? What it means is…
Micah: It’s not supporting Harry Potter.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s not supporting Harry Potter. But it also means that this becomes a louder voice, it becomes more of a political voice, and it leads to this gender act that we’re seeing in the UK. It leads to what we are now seeing in the US. It leads to discrimination in mental healthcare and in medical spaces. It has ripple effects. And so I think that it’s important for people to understand the consequences of opinions. And like Laura said at the beginning, yeah, we have freedom of speech and you’re allowed to have opinions, but that doesn’t mean that you are allowed to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater. It doesn’t mean that you are free from people criticizing your opinions. And the reason why people are so quick – and experts are also so quick – people who work in these spaces are so quick to shut this down is because they have huge lasting impacts. The bills that we are setting place will last for generations. These are fights that will kill people and have killed people, and you cannot deny those facts. And so we can all have different emotions with J.K. Rowling; we obviously have connections to Harry Potter. When it comes down to it – and I’m saying this as a huge Harry Potter fan – Harry Potter is a story and it is something that we enjoy. My interest in it will never override people’s livelihoods and people’s safety. And that is what J.K. Rowling is doing now.
Eric: Sarah, while we still have you here, we have the perk of I guess listening to some comments, or responding to some comments that we got live. My final question for you, really, is just why is it important that women and so-called natal girls do not fear trans women?
Sarah: Trans women are doing exactly what we think cis women are when we frame the arguments of “Cis women should be allowed to exist in the world without threat of violence from men.” But being allowed to walk alone at night, not put your keys between your fingers ready to attack someone if they’re coming to you, that is what trans women are also experiencing. And that’s why y’all have the same fight. And trans women, as I said before, are so at risk and are so persecuted. A lot of the time, it is very real that this threat of violence is happening against cis woman, and no one is denouncing that, no one is saying that that isn’t happening. That is happening. But that is happening astronomically more often to trans women. This year we’ve already seen… well, the number is higher now. When I was on Millennial I said 12 trans people; I think we’re now at 15 trans people that were killed in 2020, half of which, I should remind people, we were supposed to be staying in our houses. And last year there were I think 26 trans women or trans people that were killed and 21 were trans woman. And so this is a disproportionate issue to trans women and it is keeping them safe, and they are not violent. They are not a threat to you. They are seeking the same solace and protection that J.K. Rowling is hoping to give cis women.
Andrew: So one final thing before we discuss what we’re going to be doing going forward: WB issued a statement, and this was the worst statement of all, but this is what happens when Warner Bros. still has three movies, maybe a TV series, maybe other movies in the pipeline with J.K. Rowling. They don’t want to piss her off. So they issued their statement, and it says, “The events of the last several weeks have firmed our resolve as a company to confront difficult societal issues. Warner Bros.’ position on inclusiveness is well established, and fostering a diverse and inclusive culture has never been more important to our company and to our audiences around the world. We deeply value the work of our storytellers who give so much of themselves in sharing their creations with us all. We recognize our responsibility to foster empathy and advocate understanding of all communities and all people, particularly those we work with and those we reach through our content.” So they don’t address J.K. Rowling. They don’t say anything. [laughs]
Laura: They don’t take a position.
Micah: Well, in all honesty, I mean, this could easily have been a statement that they released around recent events that have been going on in our country. They just changed a couple of words.
Andrew: Yeah, it could be anything. [laughs] But as I tweeted, this is what it looks like when you don’t want to piss off the woman who is responsible for an obscene amount of your profits. They can’t lose her. They need her. But they had to say something; it’s just a whole lot of nothing.
Laura: Something else I just wanted to plug before we move on to what MuggleCast is going to look like in the future – thanks again to Anna for sending this in – for Scottish listeners who want to support the Gender Recognition Act, you can head over to LGBTyouth.org.uk to find an email template and a list of your members of Scottish Parliament to contact in support of the act.
Andrew: So what are we going to do going forward? And we’re bringing this up because a lot of people, like I said, have been very hurt by J.K. Rowling’s comments, and they feel they are done with her. MuggleCast has always been an escape for people, just like Harry Potter has been, and we would never want to end the show. We want to continue providing an escape for people. We genuinely enjoy doing this, working together, talking about Harry Potter and the lessons and all the intricacies of the series. So that said, we are going to be making a few changes, because we don’t feel like we can support J.K. Rowling in the way that we have before. And we’ve heard from some people who have said, “You guys are actually too late on this. You should have started treating her differently sooner.” And to those people, I say now, I think you’re right. I don’t think we were thinking as clearly as we should have been months ago or even years ago, because there have been a lot of problematic stances from J.K. Rowling in the past couple of years. And also, people are looking at her books again, and thinking back to some problematic views, which maybe we can address at another time.
Micah: We’ve also heard from people who said that we should be eternally grateful…
Andrew: We are!
Micah: … and give all praise to J.K. Rowling. And we are, 100%.
Andrew: But we don’t need to suck up to her every time we criticize her.
Andrew: That’s the crazy part. Some people are like, “I haven’t heard a thank you out of you while criticizing J.K. Rowling.” We need to do that every time? No, we don’t!
Sarah: I mean, it’s 2020. We all have a problematic phase. We’re all learning how all these things that we love were created by people to varying degrees of disappointment to us. And I think loving a thing does not ever have to mean just ignoring parts of it that are wrong. To love something is to treat it seriously and critically, and there are lots of spaces. I mean, when I first fell in love with MuggleCast, that was one of the reasons. I loved how much this show treated this work like it mattered. And if we’re going to treat it like it matters, I think that that also means that we have to discuss some of these things that we might not like and that might not be the most positive light shone on it.
Andrew: So here are a few of the changes that we’re going to be making. First of all, we are no longer going to be speaking about J.K. Rowling’s projects outside of the wizarding world. We don’t feel comfortable promoting her forthcoming work; that includes Cormoran Strike, the Ichabog, and whatever else she may create. We are also no longer going to talk about what J.K. Rowling is saying on Twitter. If she’s hurting fans again, we might bring it up. But like I said at the top of the show, this is the last time we’re going to be discussing what she has to say on this issue in particular in such detail, because we know now – it is abundantly clear – where she stands. And we don’t need to keep talking in circles about why we feel she’s wrong. But this also is applied to everything else that she says on Twitter; we don’t need to talk about it anymore. But we are a Harry Potter podcast and we will continue to cover wizarding world-related announcements and continue to review various elements – I’m thinking video games, I’m thinking theme park – but we’re going to avoid discussing JKR’s involvement in it, if any. And by that I mean we will clarify whether or not something is canon or not, because that’s important, but we’re not going to be talking about it in a way that praises J.K. Rowling. And then finally, we’re going to strive to highlight fan initiatives more and talk more about the fandom. The fandom is what has made Harry Potter so great. J.K. Rowling wrote the stories, but then we all met each other, we all started hanging out together, we celebrated Harry Potter together. J.K. Rowling did not create the fandom. We did. So we’re going to be focusing more on fan creations and the fandom and the people who have made this community so, so great. So those are some of the changes we’re going to be making; there might be more adjustments in the future. And then the final point I’ll bring up here is that we have made a donation to Trans Lifeline. This was brought up earlier. You can find them at TransLifeline.org. This is a trans-led organization that connects trans people to the community, support, and resources that they need to survive and thrive, and this is something right now that is so important as they face backlash from people like J.K. Rowling, from people in the US government, so we’ve made a $700 donation to them and we encourage you to donate if you can. Again, that’s TransLifeline.org.
Micah: Dan Radcliffe’s response or part of his response ties really nicely and really echoes our sentiments as a podcast. He said, “To all the people who now feel their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay, or bisexual; if you found anything in the stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life – then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.”
Laura: With that in mind, as we close out here, I thought that we could just touch on the idea that it’s okay to feel lots of different emotions surrounding this. I feel like when you look at the Internet, you’re seeing the far ends of reactions, and it could be very easy to walk away from this with the interpretation that people who disagree with J.K. Rowling hate her and want to burn her books, and the people who agree with her are just accepting everything that she says at face value. I don’t think that those encapsulate the entirety of the emotional response to this. I know for me, personally, it’s been this ball of emotions that have just been building inside of me for the last few days. And it’s disappointment and resentment, and a little bit of guilt, and just a whole bunch of stuff, and that’s okay. It’s important to talk about it. And it’s important that we sit with this and we really think about this critically as we move forward analyzing the books that we care so much about.
Sarah: I want to briefly say – because I do have to hop off in a couple of minutes – and so I’ve been seeing a lot of things on Twitter about how she raised us to fight against her now, and that is very true and a lot of work, a lot of work in educating yourself. A lot of work and allyship is sitting in discomfort and making yourself understand the complexity of situations. It doesn’t have to come easy. A lot of this shouldn’t come easy. And I feel like for myself, Harry Potter… a lot of the hosts here can say they knew me when I was young, and they knew me just as a Harry Potter fan, and Harry Potter shaped a lot of my goals. It shaped a lot of my scholarship. I talk about quotes in my practice. I think I even have some Harry Potter artwork in my office; I know that I have a ton of it in my house. This is something that is still greatly a part of my life, and it is greatly a part of my life because it taught lessons that apparently J.K. Rowling didn’t necessarily mean to teach, or meant it at the time and then forgot she meant it. I don’t quite know what it is, but we have to make the choice between what is right and what is easy right now. And what is easy is to simplify that Harry Potter is J.K. Rowling and J.K. Rowling has to be good because Harry Potter is good. And what is right is recognizing we love Harry Potter because it’s a deep story. It’s a complex story. It roots for the underdog. It says that we can fight for what is right and fight against oppressive systems that are trying to intentionally hurt people. In the series we see how it is hurting Muggle-borns, it is hurting other magical beasts, and in the real world, it is hurting marginalized folk. It is hurting people of color. It is hurting trans people. It is hurting queer people. And I know that it is my love for Harry Potter and my continued love for Harry Potter that is making me say this and that is making me know that J.K. Rowling is wrong. And I can hold both thoughts in my head that J.K. Rowling is wrong, and that Harry Potter is still good, and Harry Potter is still something that is worth exploring and seeing the lessons within it.
Andrew: I have never been so sure of a clip to use on social media.
Andrew: Dr. Sarah Steelman, thank you so much. You are a licensed marriage and family therapist out of Vegas specializing in LGBTQ+ affirmative practices. Thank you so much for joining us on today’s episode. You are wonderful.
Laura: Thank you, thank you.
Andrew: You remind us of this every time we speak to you.
Sarah: Thank you all for having me on. It’s very important that we talk to experts, as Dan Radcliffe said, and so I was very happy to be here. And like I said, I did write a piece on this, and if anyone wants to chat with me, the hosts know my contact, and so this conversation doesn’t have to end now. I’m part of the fandom. You can find me online if you need any help.
Andrew: Yeah, we will link to your social media and your Medium article in our show notes today. Bye, Sarah, have a good weekend.
Laura: Take care.
Andrew: To start wrapping things up here, anymore comments, guys, on how we’re going to treat Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling going forward, or where we go from here as fans?
Eric: I’m just disappointed because there seemed to have been a real opportunity to, I don’t know, level with people instead of doing very misdirecting manipulative things. And our author, our queen, has not taken that route of providing a singular argument, and has just rambled and caused and spread the very fear that we see being enacted in social policies in governments across the world now. So I just want to… me, leaving things, just saying I’m disappointed that this has occurred. That I think Jo somewhere in there is smart enough to not have done this, and I’m just really bummed out. I’m going to read the books as often as I would normally or discuss them as often as I would normally, but I’m really at the point where I’m looking for different voices, diverse voices, diverse artists and authors to support, because I feel like I’ve spent so much of my life… it wasn’t a lie, it wasn’t wasted, but I’ve spent a lot of life supporting people whose views I now know to be problematic. And I wish I could throw some money towards people that actually need it.
Laura: I would like to part by saying that everyone, all of us here, all of you at home, your relationship to Harry Potter and the wizarding world is yours, and it is up to you what that looks like, and what makes you comfortable. This, what we talked about today, we certainly feel very strongly about this. But at the same time, we’re not saying that you should not have a relationship with J.K. Rowling’s work that makes you comfortable. So we’re not going to judge anybody if they decide they want to continue, for example, reading future works that J.K. Rowling puts out; that’s a very personal choice. We just hope that as you continue your journey, that this is a point of view that you keep in mind.
Micah: That’s a great point. And for me – I know I touched on this earlier – but there’s a lot to be said for the educational piece of this. And I think Sarah hit it right on the head when she was talking about sometimes being an ally and learning new things is uncomfortable, and it should be. And I think that what we’re talking about right now may even be more uncomfortable for people because, especially here in the United States, it’s already layered on societal issues that are going on where people are uncomfortable, and they’re realizing that there’s been a lot of social injustice that has gone on in this country for quite a period of time. And I think, in a way, it’s an awakening for a lot of people to realize that they don’t know what they don’t know. And it’s time to sit down and have conversations and learn in order for us to be able to move forward.
Andrew: The last point I want to make is in the show notes, we’re going to link to a thread by somebody on Twitter named Andrew James Carter, who broke down J.K. Rowling’s blog post point by point, and why I want to share it is because he actually used evidence and facts and shared a lot of data, unlike J.K. Rowling. And I think it’s important to read that because you’ll understand that unlike J.K. Rowling, Andrew James Carter put a lot of thought into his response to J.K. Rowling. And I think it’s important to get the full picture and he provides that, so we’ll include a link in the show notes as well. Next week, we won’t talk about this; we will return to Chapter by Chapter and celebrate the Harry Potter fandom as we always do. And if you have any feedback about today’s discussion, of course, we would love to hear it, no matter which side you are on. You can email MuggleCast@gmail.com or use the contact form on MuggleCast.com. And then, of course, you can send us a voice memo or you can use the voicemail line 1-920-3-MUGGLE. That’s 1-920-368-4453.
Micah: Chapter 32, “Out of the Fire,” which would have been an appropriate title for this episode, too, I think.
[Andrew and Eric laugh]
Andrew: We’ll finally get back to that Umbridge suck count, and hopefully cross 100.
Micah: I think I pushed it across the 100 mark, not to tease ahead to next week…
Micah: … but I was working on that chapter analysis before this all went down.
Andrew: Came up, yeah. Okay. Cool.
Micah: She sucks a lot in the next chapter.
Laura: Yeah, we can definitely accomplish 100, bare minimum.
Andrew: [laughs] All right, thank you, everybody, for listening. We appreciate it. And to those who have been skeptical of the outrage, if you’ve made it this far into the episode, we appreciate you too. We know this is a hard conversation to be had. But we felt very strongly about this, and this is why we’ve spent nearly two hours in today’s episode talking about this, and we hope some people’s minds have been changed. If not, that’s okay. We still respect you and love you. Thanks, everybody, for listening. I’m Andrew.
Eric: I’m Eric.
Micah: I’m Micah.
Laura: And I’m Laura.
Andrew: Bye, everybody.
Laura: Take care, y’all.