‘For Trans People Like My Twin Brother, JK Rowling’s Comments Are Devastating’

'If I can accept that my twin is a trans man, and that doesn’t in any way erase my lived experience as a woman, then why can’t she?

JK Rowling transgender rights

by Ella Glover |

On a topic as complex as transgender rights, it’s easy to dismiss the confusion surrounding gender-neutral language as ignorant or uninformed, but this week, when Harry Potter author JK Rowling spoke out about transgender rights, the language she used denied the existence of one of the people I care about most in the world, my twin brother. Hearing that coming from a childhood hero was devastating for us both.

In case you missed it, JK Rowling was in the news when she questioned a headline using the term ‘people who menstruate’ by tweeting, “I'm sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?"

She added “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.”

This idea, that the denial of biological sex erases the experience of women, is mostly associated with those who label themselves ‘gender critical’ (or, as they’re most commonly known, TERFs) who fear that transgender rights threaten the need for women’s rights. But not only does this stance deny the right to womanhood for every woman who has never or no longer menstruates, invalidating the experience of millions of women (trans or not), it also denies the lived experiences of trans men, rejecting their existence.

When I asked Vince how he was feeling about the furore this week as the story has rumbled on, he explained that Rowling’s history of transphobia is what made these comments especially hurtful, like when she tweeted her support for Maya Forstarter, a woman who had been fired from her jobs for tweets that were considered transphobic. How she’d intentionally corrected a headline which clearly attempted to include trans men and nonbinary people in the conversation about periods, made it seem to Vince like Rowling was ‘going out of her way’ to discredit the existence of trans men.

When Vince came out as trans around seven years ago, we were 16. At first, it was difficult to comprehend, and it took me a while to consistently use his correct pronouns. Accepting such a big change takes a huge amount of work, but one thing I never did was deny Vince’s experience as a man. So, what I don’t understand is, if I can accept that my twin – someone I’ve known since I can remember – is a trans man, and that doesn’t in any way erase my lived experience as a woman, why can’t she?

Speaking to Vince, I got a feel for the hurt this tweet caused among the trans community. Menstruation alone triggers his dysphoria – a feeling which manifests as anxiety and depression – so, when it is implied that only women get their periods, it can have a huge impact on his mental health – made all the worse by the fact that he has been a lifelong J K Rowling fan.

I haven’t met a British twenty-something who can say that Harry Potter didn’t play even a small part in their childhood, and Vince and I grew up with Harry Potter. Vince, especially, loved the Wizarding World. He felt a connection to many of the characters and, for him, feeling that the person behind that magic wants to erase him and his experiences is “crushing”.

Former Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe was one of several celebrities – and Harry Potter stars – who have distanced themselves from her comments, writing, “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 health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.”

Radcliffe said that he hopes that “these comments will not taint” fans’ experience of the Harry Potteruniverse, but for many trans people, including Vince, separating Rowling from her work is impossible.

What Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists fail to acknowledge is the difference between gender and sex, which are two medically separate concepts. The stereotype is that trans women as painted as predatory liars and trans men as women who have transitioned to escape the perils of womanhood.

In doing so, Rowling rejects a core element of modern day feminism: intersectionality. Put simply, intersectional feminism acknowledges that a combination of social and political elements of a person’s identity can lead to different types of discrimination. It acknowledges that trans women face a different, more harmful form of discrimination than cis-gendered women. In attempting to protect women’s rights, Rowling denies the existence of women less privileged than herself.

This topic is a complex one, but it boils down to nothing more than compassion and understanding. It’s not just sad that the woman who created such an influential piece of work is alienating her own audience, it’s that someone with such a huge platform would actively try to dismiss the experience and existence of trans people, which all too often leads to violence and abuse.

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