Over the past couple years, author J.K. Rowling, who was once considering kind of a shining ally for promoting diversity and speaking out for the marginalised, has been sharing views via her official Twitter account which have been decried by many as transphobic or exclusionary. Rowling, a self-described feminist, has spoken out many times against social, political, and economic institutions that have not supported women’s rights, the rights of people of colour, or the rights of the poor. However, this recent trend, which many say falls in line with a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminism) agenda, has been both contentious and disappointing coming from someone who had always presented herself as an ally. Below are some of the “Tweets” that Rowling has shared which illustrate her viewpoints. Please note, there is a lot to unpack just from these posts, so I’ve elected not to address previous posts from earlier this year or from last year, but that does not negate their significance.
Rowling, who has almost 14,000 posts and 14.5 million followers on the social media site, has deflected claims of exclusionism on her part as being “nonsense” while saying that the term TERF is itself a hateful label applied to biological women. I will address that in a moment, but I have to point out that I find it ironic that an author who was born as a woman and who used a male pseudonym to publish her books in order to not have them viewed through the lens of her own sex and gender, would claim that gender and sex are static and synonymous. I see this and her many recent statements as problematic on many levels and I wanted to weigh in on this. Indeed, I feel that I need to, because exclusionism anywhere is incongruous with inclusion anywhere. Below is my response.
So, J.K. Rowling, I take issue with a few things here, and I cannot be quiet about it. First of all, TERF is not a term of hate. It’s not directed at just women, but at anyone who advances women’s rights purely based on biology, and not based upon the social construct of gender. Trans women also experience hate. They also experience exclusion. Not only as women, but as trans women, and that is then two areas where they experience invalidation. Elevating women as a whole must be the goal of feminism. It cannot be just to elevate women who have periods. If we define women solely on the basis of who experiences periods, there are going to be many women who are denied because they use birth control, because of hormonal imbalances, because they are pregnant, or because they cannot have periods. Likewise, if we define women on the basis of who is born with a vagina, that then becomes a majority, and we overlook a minority of women who were born with either male or both male and female genitalia. These people exist, too, and it is not advancing feminism to overlook them. I’ll be honest and say that while I, even as a non-binary individual, have advocated for feminism my whole adult life, I have not always understood the degree to which trans people have been impacted by both misogyny from men and denial from feminists who don’t see them as women. In fact, it wasn’t until I spoke, or rather, more importantly, that I listened to my trans friends that I understood how my own definitions and rigid views had contributed to the climate of their oppression and marginalisation. I had to unlearn these definitions and to see things from a different viewpoint than the one I held for so long. But it can be done. And I am a better feminist as a result. I urge you to reach out to the trans community, open yourself up, learn from their experiences, question your own biases, and be a better feminist. If I can, then so can you.
Being an ally to the LGBTQIAPK community is also acknowledging that we as a community are not monolithic. We are not one singular identity and we are not one group of uniform genders, sexes, or sexualities anymore that we are confined by age, race, religion, politics, or economic status. You will find among this vast and multi-faceted community exclusionism. You will find straight people who call everyone else mentally ill. You will find gay men who denounce lesbians and feminists. You will find gay white people who exclude gay people of colour. You will find cis lesbian women who exclude lesbian trans women, calling them heteros in disguise. You will find asexual people who are told that asexuality doesn’t exist. You will find hypersexual people who are told that they are nymphomaniacs or sex addicts. You will find pansexuals who tell bisexuals that they are guilty of thinking in binaries. You will find bisexuals who tell monosexuals that they are just repressing their same-sex attractions and desires. All of these are forms of exclusionism and invalidation. Identity, self-identification, self-expression of desire (or the lack thereof) and of attraction (or the lack thereof) are complex, and they are unique both within the context of the larger collective and to each and every individual. The problem I see is that many are trying to force the collective lens over the nuance of the individual or trying to force the many individual lenses over that of the collective. This is not a hierarchy. It’s a network of overlapping spheres and each person in this sprawling network is valid. Using the voices of exclusionism within any of these sub-communities does not validate your invalidation of any of these other sub-communities. We don’t hold the right to dictate what other people’s identities or experiences are. Ever. Period.