Slutsky and Bitchin' | JK Rowling's reasons for her transphobia are strawman arguments

It is disturbing that her arguments resemble the arguments straight people had against gay people at one point in time; that you could 'catch' being gay


                            Slutsky and Bitchin' | JK Rowling's reasons for her transphobia are strawman arguments
J. K. Rowling (Getty Images)

Slutsky: So JK Rowling put out a lengthy essay about "new trans activism" and why she is worried about it. She gives five reasons. One, her charitable work for women and girls, especially domestic abuse survivors and female prisoners, and health research around female diseases. She is worried about the future impact on such work if new trans activism gets its way. Two, she is also worried about girl's education and safeguarding too, heaven knows why. Three, like other hate speech mongers, she also pulls the free speech card. Four, she is worried about the "explosion" of young women transitioning because they are confused. Five, she pulls the 'I was abused' card before saying that she can't be called a bigot if she values single-sex spaces to feel safe. 

Bitchin': Wow, where do I even start. And she referred to her token transwoman friend to prove she is not transphobic. It is like a nightmare unfolding. 

Slutsky: But the problem is that in a dominantly cis-gendered society, her arguments sound, on the surface, reasonable. So I want to look into her fears for a bit here -- to show how they parallel the sort of fears that the other letters of the LGBT community faced in their times of struggle to gain acceptance, not to mention the sort discrimination that queer people of color face.

Bitchin': Before you do, can I also mention that I find the argument that white people "feeling black" is the same as men "feeling like women" infuriating. The reason why transwomen face the most amount of violence is that they display feminine traits. If they walked about as men, they wouldn't face any violence. Drag queens are harmed or beaten up because of their femininity, not their masculinity. Whereas white women trying to pass off as black has become a thing after hip hop culture has made racial characteristics associated with black women culturally acceptable. You didn't have white women using makeup to darken their skin until it was commercially profitable to do so on Instagram. Whereas, trans people were there at Stonewall fighting just as hard and facing discrimination just like their cis-gendered brothers and sisters. There was absolutely no cache to being female back then -- so when someone said they were in the wrong bodies, it was a source of trauma and discrimination. It wasn't about taking away the rights gained by women or trying to find a way to sneak into women's spaces. 

Slutsky: I hear you. Plus, what about her comments about transmen? She quotes statistics of more people born with female genitals, wishing to transition because of peer pressure as teenagers because everyone else is doing it. Transitioning is not an easy decision. Add to that the process of transitioning has several gatekeepers from immediate family to the medical establishment to the governmental and judicial norms. It is also prohibitively expensive. Anyone, male or female wishing to transition is subject to intense scrutiny and questioning. To hold on to the need to transition despite everything and everyone needs to be respected.

Just like more people come out as gay now because there's greater acceptance and tolerance, there are those who are also finding the courage to identify under different labels -- from being non-binary to identifying wholly as men or boys. Since women's voices and their presence is usually ignored or invisibilized, we had the phenomenon of gay men being more visible than lesbians early on. Similarly, transwomen have also been more visible than transmen until recently.  No wonder the number of female to male transitions have increased only after a trans identity has become more accepted. 

Bitchin': I also find it so disturbing that her arguments resemble the arguments straight people had against gays at one point in time. That you could 'catch' gayness. She too is essentially arguing in her essay that girls will "catch" the need to transition because of peer pressure.    

Slutsky: We are nowhere near to a situation where men will walk in and ask for certificates to become women for the rest of their lives in hordes and vice versa. It is a false fear that JK Rowling is fanning. Her other concern is around single-sex spaces like bathrooms and domestic abuse shelters. Trans people are significant targets of abuse because they are defying society's gender binaries. It is again a false fear that men claiming to be women will walk into female spaces and harm them. Yes, there might be isolated incidents like that. But overwhelmingly, it is transwomen who are abused and ridiculed if they are forced to use men's toilets. Instead, having toilets with locking doors or one-person cubicles, resembling capsule hotel bunks, in abuse shelters will probably give more protection to women and transwomen than expecting transwomen to use male urinals or deny access to shelters when they are abused. Making the concept of womanhood and feminist spaces trans-inclusive will in no way undermine them just like allowing gay people to marry hasn't affected straight marriages or the concept of family. 

Bitchin': Her essay treats transwomen as inherently dangerous and suspect. As much as she professes great love for trans people, she is doing exactly what white women have historically done across ages -- throw women who don't look like them under the bus while they act like damsels in distress needing protection. She is toxic white feminism personified.

Slutsky & Bitchin’ is a column that will examine the highs and lows of pop culture and media from a feminist POV.

Disclaimer : The views expressed in this article belong to the writer and are not necessarily shared by MEAWW.