No fan of J. K. Rowling could expect her next publication to be “Harry Potter and the Transphobic Tweet.” But among all her transphobic posts, Ms. Rowling did make some legitimate points.
So what exactly did Ms. Rowling say? Based on the lengthy essay that she published on her website, she appears to have two main concerns. Firstly, she is concerned about young trans people who wanted to transition as a result of homophobia. Secondly, she is worried about the invasion of ciswomen single-sex spaces by men who, as she claimed, can just legally become women when they say so.
Ms. Rowling’s first concern regarding trans youth is actually valid. Dr. Laura Edwards-Leeper is an Associate Professor in the School of Graduate Psychology at Pacific University in Hillsboro, Oregon, and the current Chair of the Child and Adolescent Committee for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. According to her, teens who identify as trans may be under a peer, family, religious, or cultural pressure. For example, some cultures are more discriminatory towards homosexuals than transgenders.
Edward-Leeper also says that transition might be a solution for some gender dysphoric people but not for all. As a veteran in her field, she believed there should be comprehensive assessments to determine whether a child should transition. For example, mental health and stereotypical views of gender may have significant influences. If a teenage boy can feel comfortable expressing himself in a more feminine way, or once his mental health issues have been addressed, he might have a different view on the necessity of transitioning.
Many other well-established psychiatrists share this principle of caution, such as Diane Ehrensaft and Scott Leibowitz. The reason for this is because cross-sex hormone therapies and sex reassignment surgeries can have irreversible consequences. But new doctors for transgender and gender non-conforming children are not very cautious. They now practice affirming care, which means clinicians listen to the patients without critical questioning and assists them with transitioning. However, these new doctors should remember that gender fluidity or underdeveloped perception of gender is common in adolescents. With the lack of research regarding transgender and gender non-conforming children, cautious practices are a must if we want to avoid unnecessary medical transitions. In Dr. Ehrensaft’s words, “we [clinicians] are neither rubber stampers nor pushers [of transgender identity]; we are facilitators [of their experiments].”
While Ms. Rowling’s first concern has proved to be valid, her second concern, which regards the invasion of ciswomen single-sex spaces by men, is not. In her essay, she claimed that her past of being “a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor” made her extremely cautious about single-sex spaces for women where no “men” can invade. In the past, due to the misconception, that sexual predators were mainly male and victims were females, female-exclusive spaces such as segregated-sex bathrooms were created to protect natal women and girls. These spaces were created to avoid erotic or sexual tensions happen between the two sexes.
This logic no longer upholds in the current age because it assumes that sexual tension only happens between two people of opposite sexes. It basically erases the existence of the non-heterosexual community. Separating men and women to avoid rapes is not a valid argument because females-on-females sexual assaults also exist. According to a 2005 survey by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), one in three lesbian-identified participants had been sexually assaulted by a woman. Sexual assault perpetrators can be males, females, cisgenders, or transgenders. Ms. Rowling’s essay, by assuming that only trans women will rape ciswomen, is transphobic. The only measure to fight sexual assaults is not enforcing sex-segregated spaces but education.
Similarly, the only measure to fight transphobia is also education. Transsexuality, despite being normal, is invisible to the heteronormative world. Invisibility makes ignorance. And ignorance makes fear. Only with education can we overcome misunderstanding and ignorance. Yet, I must warn you, transsexuality is complex and stratified. In the end, what we need to remember here is that we must be cautious when medically and psychologically dealing with kids that have gender dysphoria. And Ms. Rowling should not let her fear of sexual assault (which is understandable) interfere with others’ right to take a leak.
To understand J.K. Rowling’s argument, please read her essay, JK Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues
To understand medical concerns regarding transitions for transgender and gender non-conforming youth, please read When Children Say They're Transgender by Jesse Singal and Transgender Kids: What Does It Take to Help Them Thrive? by Francine Russo.