The unravelling how all of this came to be
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
Varied opinions followed a Vancouver billboard displaying the text I ♥ JK Rowling earlier this month. This sign follows a fury of what some may see as transphobic Twitter posts, essay, and new novel—the basis of which Rowling claims all of this had started from. While some view her claims as hate speech, others argue that she is exhibiting freedom of speech. Regardless of where her interest in trans rights rooted from, some organizations considered “anti-trans” have grasped onto what Rowling has shared and used her as a face to perpetuate their beliefs against trans identities.
I will begin by defining some terms. To remove subjectivity as much as possible, the quoted sections are taken from Merriam-Webster (granted, in a lengthy usage section Merriam-Webster states “Usage of sex and gender is by no means settled”). Sex is “either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures.” Gender, something many believe to be a social construct, is mentioned in a section of the usage guide “[…] and a few decades later gender gained a meaning referring to the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex, as in ‘gender roles.’” These roles can vary between cultures and are often based on societal expectations. One’s sex and gender do not always align; gender identity is “a person’s internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female.” This internal sense often manifests to an individual’s gender expression, which refers to “the physical and behavioral manifestations of one’s gender identity.” Transphobia is defined as: “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against transgender people.” Lastly, hate speech is defined as “speech expressing hatred of a particular group of people.”
Now, where did Rowling’s interest in trans activism begin? In an essay, Rowling describes how researching content for her new book Troubled Blood—a crime fiction which received crummy reviews—was part of what had initiated her research on gender identity matters. However, in liking what some consider anti-trans Twitter posts and subsequently posting similar items on her Twitter feed, her research soon snowballed into what I think is a large transphobic mess. Pro-trans persons took a stance against her, whereas people who are considered anti-trans saluted her, clutching onto her image as anti-trans propaganda. She also mentions a large number of “positive, grateful, and supportive” emails and letters from those “worried about the dangers to young people, gay people and about the erosion of women’s and girl’s rights […] about a climate of fear that serves nobody—least of all trans youth—well.”
In the same essay mentioned above, she states: “I’m concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning (returning to their original sex), because they regret taking steps that have, in some cases, altered their bodies irrevocably, and taken away their fertility.” She stated that “I’m an ex-teacher and the founder of a children’s charity, which gives me an interest in both education and safeguarding. Like many others, I have deep concerns about the effect the trans rights movement is having on both […]” She feels as though she needs to protect cis women and children from transgendered persons: “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 man who believes or feels he’s a woman—and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormone—then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside,” but also wrote, “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.”
In this essay, she attests the rise in persons identifying as a gender that differs from their biological sex to be a current trend. She quotes American physician and researcher, Lisa Littman, who was touching on fluidity: “Parents online were describing a very unusual pattern of transgender-identification where multiple friends and even entire friend groups became transgender-identified at the same time. I would have been remiss had I not considered social contagion and peer influences as potential factors.” Her accompanied Twitter posts are where freedom of speech—something Rowling continuously advocates for—has contorted into what many activists consider transphobia.
She has used her Twitter account as a platform to proliferate what I believe are transphobic views to the public by repeatedly sharing the perspective that transwomen are not real women. She has stated menstruation is only something a woman can do, which many trans activists disagree with. Perhaps this is an easier claim to make as a cis person—an individual whose sex adheres to their gender. She attempts at strengthening these ideas by sharing what I think are unscholarly articles (such as this one) which state the health risks of cross-sex hormones and sex reassignment surgery and re-Tweeting others’ opinions who align with hers. After receiving backlash, she defends her views by saying that she lives in a liberal society and is therefore free to voice her views. It was only after a sporadic fury of Twitter posts that she organized her ideas in writing the essay mentioned above. I believe these shared transphobic views have manifested into tangible propaganda such as the Vancouver I ♥ JK Rowling.
Preceding the Hastings and Glen Drive Patterson billboard, a similar sign was erected in Edinburgh, Scotland. The sign was taken down a day later, due to its perceived discriminatory nature. One CBC article noted that the Vancouver residing duo who were responsible for commissioning the Patterson billboard was inspired to do so by the above mentioned Scottish one. Identical to the Edinburgh sign, I think it was public applause towards Rowling’s stance on young people going through or considering gender transition. The sign was paint-splattered the day after it was posted, and similarly covered up a day later by the city.
The unravelling by-products of Rowling’s first Tweets have resulted in what I consider echoed hate towards trans persons throughout multiple continents. I do not believe that Rowling initially intended for her transgender research and subsequent comments to have grasped the attention of all those it had and to have caused the repercussions it did. Yet here we are months later with individuals clinging to Rowling’s words and using her words to symbolize anti-trans activism.