JK Rowling, trans activism and the toxicity of social media bubbles

On 10th June 2020, JK Rowling, the famous author of the most successful children’s book series of all time, wrote an essay on her website to try and counter some of the hatred she has been receiving from trans activists, who had been angered by certain things she had “liked” and re-tweeted on social media.

At first glance, the essay seems well-reasoned. It’s well written (as you would expect) and Ms Rowling goes into detail about some very personal and painful experiences she has had at the hands of abusive men, which, as an abuse survivor myself, I know takes a fair amount of courage to do publicly.

She is worried about the supposed 4,400% increase in young girls presenting at gender identity clinics. The reason I write “supposed” here, is that the Tavistock and Portman clinic, the main gender identity clinic for children and young people in the UK, state on their website that in the year 2018-19 (the latest year they have the statistics for) overall referrals rose by only 6% compared to the previous year and that, yes, there has been an increase in referrals for girls compared to boys, but I’m not sure where that 4,400% figure has been derived from. If you click on the link to the Tavistock’s website above, you will see a graph and several tables which explain referrals, and although there is definitely an increase, I wouldn’t say (as an amateur) that it represents quite so high a percentage as that.

Ms Rowling is worried that this increase is fueled by the increasing levels of misogyny in our society, making young girls want to leave “womanhood” behind for the safer and more privileged “manhood”. The thing is, this may well be true in some cases, but the Tavistock is aware of this and they work closely with every child and young person on a case by case basis to weed out anyone who wants to change their gender identity for the wrong reasons. They don’t get it right every time, how could they? So, there are some well-publicised cases of people suing them for allowing them to transition too soon, or when the problem wasn’t actually gender dysphoria at all. However, these cases are a vanishly small percentage of the number of children and young people who are successfully seen by the clinic every year (and by successfully, I mean either that they transition or that they find they don’t actually want to).

At no point does Ms Rowling back up her statements or the statistics she quotes with references or links to any of them, so there is no way to know if what she is saying is fact or just something she has picked up from reading all the highly biased and often extremely transphobic literature which abounds on the web. I have no doubt that, like most of us, she sits in her social media bubble, so that anything she reads on this subject tends to back up the views she already holds.

She says she has an older trans female friend, but then goes on to say that her friend went through all the rigorous evaluation, psychotherapy and “staged transformation” (and presumably surgery) which trans people currently have to go through when they choose to transition, which makes her all right apparently.

This means that we now move on to the thorny subject of self-ID. For those of you who have no idea what this means, the trans community has been lobbying for some time (and the government has held a consultation) for the right of people who feel they are of the opposite sex to their biological one or who feel they are non-binary (of neither or both sexes) to change their birth certificates without having to go through all the above mentioned psychotherapy, evaluation and “staged transition”. This does not mean that they won’t go through that process at some point in the future, but it does mean that they will not have to go through the embarrassment of having to produce a birth certificate which does not marry up with the gender in which they present.

Some women, a few of whom call themselves feminists, and some who are lesbians, have expressed horror at this proposed change to the Gender Recognition Act, because they believe it will mean that any man can say he is a woman and then be admitted into women-only spaces such as toilets, changing rooms, women’s refuges and prisons. This would then allow the said man to assault any woman he liked, having duped them into believing he is actually a woman. On the face of it, I can understand this fear, particularly when it comes from women like Ms Rowling, who have been sexually assaulted in the past. However, if we get past the hysteria and look at this seriously, I believe this is a baseless fear.

I was recently talking to a relative about this, and she told me a story (trying to convince me that this fear is not baseless) about being in London late at night when she was a young woman, and going into an empty women’s toilet. Whilst she was in there, a man walked in. This obviously scared her. I asked her if he was dressed as a woman. No, he wasn’t. And here is exactly my point. Men who want to frighten and assault women don’t need to pretend to be women to do it. Theoretically, any man can walk into any women’s space with the intention of attacking a woman, and there is not a great deal any woman can do about it. This is the reality of what it is to be a woman in today’s world.

I also think, when we look at this rationally, that no potential abuser or rapist will either want or need to go through the process of changing his birth certificate in order to abuse or rape women. If he wants to assault a woman, he can, as is amply shown in recent UK sexual violence statistics which record more that 154,000 reported cases of sexual violence in the UK between January and March 2020.

When it comes to women’s refuges, research done for this article in 2018, when the government first started consulting on changes to the Gender Recognition Act (including self-ID) showed that trans women were already accessing these services, and that all refuges have rigorous risk assessment criteria which would easily weed out the possibility that an abusive man might try to access their services whilst in the guise of a woman. In fact, 1 in 6 trans women are subjected to domestic abuse, so the refuges are badly needed for them, as well as cis women.

Prisons are a slightly more difficult issue. There have been some well-publicised cases of trans women prisoners committing sexual assault on women prisoners, but in these cases it was the police and prison officials who were at fault in not taking into account the sexual offences history of the trans women prisoners and keeping them apart from the general prison population. There has been some discussion of opening separate units for transgender inmates, but this may pose a threat to other transgender inmates, so it’s a difficult thing to resolve. In my opinion, if each case is looked at thoroughly on a case by case basis, much as is done in Gender Identity Clinics, then it should be possible to find a solution which keeps everyone safe, including the transgender inmates themselves, who are very likely to suffer violent attacks in prison. This issue will continue to be debated, and I have confidence that a solution will be found which keeps every prisoner safe, regardless of their gender identity.

As you can see, I am not worried about Self-ID and I don’t believe anybody needs to be worried about it. What I am worried about it the amount of hatred and vitriol this argument has sparked online.

Social media bubbles are dangerous things, and this goes not only for the so-called “TERFS”, but also for the trans activists who oppose them. In these bubbles, where everyone agrees with you, it’s very easy to start whipping up hatred and getting you into such a frenzied state of anger and frustration that you begin to “troll” people who don’t agree with you. It is not ok for anybody, regardless of which side they are on in this debate, to make rape and death threats against their opponents. It is also not ok to mis-gender trans people in order to hurt them.

We seem to have lost the simple art of debating on a subject. If you look back through my posts on here, you will see that I have had many debates in the comments section, and in most cases I have agreed to disagree with the person with whom I am debating. This is the sensible way to deal with people who have different opinions to you. If they get abusive, end the conversation. As one of my idols, the non-binary model and actor Rain Dove says: Educate, don’t Hate. If you debate calmly with someone, sometimes you can change their mind.

I fervently hope that people who are worried about self-ID, or how children and young people are treated by Gender Identity Clinics, will read this post and be inspired to do more reasoned research on these subjects, and not just rely on their social media bubble for information.

Educate, don’t Hate.

About Liz Terry

I love to write, and have had quite a few articles published over the years. I write non-fiction on all sorts of subjects, including my own life and what matters to me. I write a blog, called "My Random Ramblings", which you can access by clicking to view my complete profile and then clicking on the link at the bottom. I also wrote a new blog in 2013 called "The 365 Project - a photo diary in words". Intrigued? Then you need to click to view my complete profile and click on the relevant link at the bottom.
This entry was posted in Activism, Books, Educate don't hate, Feminism, LGBT, Self-ID, Social media, Trans activism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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