Dear J.K. Rowling,
For someone who imagined such a staggeringly beautiful world of magic, the limits of your imagination when it comes to humankind are heartbreaking. For trans women and those of us who support them, your views aren’t just hurtful–they’re dangerous. You are eloquent and articulate in your convictions, but your arguments are based in fear and they hurt people. You should know better than anyone the power of language, the spellbinding marvel of the perfect phrase, of finding the right combination of words to say exactly what you mean, to change the way people see what is possible in this world just by putting pen to paper.
Over the last year, you have done a masterful job of creating a palatable narrative to cloak transphobia. The arguments, articles, and rhetoric you promote may occasionally draw from the world of science, but they fail to account for the vast realities of our world and what might lie beyond our current understanding. Biological essentialism is transphobia because it doesn’t recognize people as they want and deserve to be seen. Dismissing self identification in regards to one’s gender is eerily similar to conservatives who argued that gay couples wanting to legally marry were infringing upon the sanctity of marriage. All we wanted was to be included. Wielding your influence as if people’s lives weren’t at stake, as if it were just civil discourse, is irresponsible. It is not simply a difference of opinion when you are arguing against the legitimacy and safety of marginalized people.
I know that you want to protect cis women from undue harm, to anticipate the threats that might be waiting around the corner. I’m with you. But what threatens trans women threatens all women. The specter of misogyny is indiscriminate; it is not concerned with chromosomes or transition or medical diagnosis. Recently, a memo from the United States Housing and Urban Development department, which is pursuing a policy that would force trans women into men’s homeless shelters, leaked to the media. It instructs shelter employees to look for the physical characteristics that might reveal a person to be a trans woman: “factors such as height, the presence (but not the absence) of facial hair, the presence of an Adam’s apple, and other physical characteristics which, when considered together, are indicative of a person’s biological sex.” This policing of women’s bodies, surveilling and monitoring them, humiliating them when they seek refuge during a global pandemic, is the result of the kind of biological definitions of womanhood you argue for.
Is there any part of you that thinks about the people you might hurt with your statements? About people who are scared to death to live their authentic lives? People who have been rejected by their families, by their churches, by their communities? People who grew up reading your books as a template for chosen family, as a north star to finding themselves?
I know you don’t think you’re hurting anyone by saying these things; I know you think that you are defending women and lesbians and protecting children from harm and receiving undue backlash as merely a consequence for speaking the truth. And I believe that you also know and love trans people. I want to level with you, because I see your heart. I used to think that we could collectively redefine the binary so that trans people might be able to see themselves as just a different kind of woman or a different kind of man, then they wouldn’t need hormones or surgery; all gender expressions could be normalized. But the issue with an absolutist gender utopia is that it doesn’t take into account people’s lived realities, and the way the world exists as it is, right now. Everyone is doing what they can to survive. If you truly love trans people, listen to them.
Jo, you are so important to the queer community. You have been–for some of us, through our entire lives–the bellwether of what’s possible. If you were to tell us that you see trans women as the women they are, you would, in an instant, make the world a warmer and brighter place for them, make their future seem possible, and create a space for us to come together, as women. You could, as easily as you breathe, change the world for us again. It would be like magic.
Mary, a Hufflepuff