By David T. Valentin
The internet is abuzz with discussion after The New York Times posted an opinion piece titled “In Defense of J.K. Rowling written by American columnist, editor, and author Pamela Paul.
The article details a defense—albeit an incredibly weak one—where in Pamela Paul defends J.K. Rowling’s critique of the Trans community through thinly veiled bias based on evidence that could be easily refuted with just a few google searches.
Paul opens the article with quotes from J.K. Rowling’s blog post published on 10 June 2020—the same blog post where J.K. Rowling doubled down on what people began suspecting after she had followed Magdalen Berns, a lesbian radical feminist who Rowling knew was labeled a terf by the public prior to following her.
The quotes Paul uses are:
“Trans people need and deserve protection.”
“I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others but are vulnerable.”
“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them”
“I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.”
All quotes that seem as though they are in support of trans women.
But as one twitter user notes in a critique of Pamela Paul’s Opinion piece, “Turns out three of them are from a single paragraph – which she immediately nullifies by saying trans people pose a danger to women.”
Rowling immediately follows this paragraph by saying:
“So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.”
The paragraph serves as a massive but, and completely goes against Rowling’s defense that “Trans people need and deserve protection.”
If you bar trans women from using restrooms where they feel safe, where they feel that their solidarity in womenhood with both trans women and cis women alike will protect them from bigotry because other women should understand what it feels like to live under a strict and dangerous patriarchy.
And that’s not even getting at the worst of what Rowling insinuates in her blog post, specifically with the sentence, “When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman,” the harsh implication being that Rowling believes, in some way, trans women are just men in disguise, looking to infiltrate women’s spaces.
But what I, and others, have to ask: is what exactly is preventing cis men from doing just that right now? What’s stopping a man from doing that without disguise? And if Rowling recognizes the bigotry and discrimination trans women go through, should not Rowling be advocating for greater protections for women, trans women and femme presenting people who seek to access women’s restrooms out of fear of discrimination from men?
Rather than advocating to educate men on the needs of women and femme presenting people and teaching men to do better, Rowling uses her power and influence to instead gatekeep femininity. Instead of using her influence and power to deconstruct the power people hold through gender binaries—to examine how gender as a social construct does not just affect men, but everybody of varying genders in a variety of different ways—Rowling doubles down on the need for a gender binary to use her privilege to exclude a vulnerable group of people rather than acknowledging cis women and trans women face the same problems and require the same resources and protections.
One might argue that Rowling does believe this—that cis women and trans women should share their resources to help one another and to create a safer protections. And yet, J.K. Rowling uses her resources to do just the opposite.
At the tail end of 2022, J.K. Rowling used her resources to open up a trauma center for women of trauma and abuse named, Beira’s Place named after the Scottish goddess of winter. Despite being a center for women who have experiences trauma and abuse, Beira’s Place refuses to serve—and even hire—trans women.
According to Pink News, Beira’s Place stated to them, “Beira’s place is a women-only service. Section 212 of the Equality Act of 2010 defines a woman as a ‘female of any age’ and Beira’s Place services are for women aged 16 and over. The service is offered in accordance with the Equality Act 2010, which permits the provision of single sex services and a single sex staffing policy in various situations where there’s a good reason for them.”
And if it wasn’t obvious enough, the exclusion of trans women of Beira’s Place is solely because—as seen in Rowling’s blog post in June 2020—Rowling does not see trans women as women, thus invalidating the struggles that comes with being both trans and a woman.
Columnist Pamela Paul, who calls the campaign against Rowling “dangerous as it is absurd,” writes in the same opinion piece, “There is no evidence that she is putting trans people ‘in danger,’ as has been claimed, nor is she denying their right to exist.”
And sure, perhaps Rowling hasn’t called anyone the t slur, or openly mocked a trans woman (as far as I know), but the implications are there, between the lines. Pamela Paul’s refusal to accept that when someone with so much power and influential as J.K. Rowling uses her wealth and fame to not only speak over but disengenuinely misrepresent trans experience, she is drowning out the voices of all trans people who can be brought to the podium to speak their truth.
Just a paragraph down from the quote above, Pamela Paul notes journalist E.J. Rosetta—a journalist who once denounced Rowling for her transphobia—who was commissioned to write up an article detailing 20 transphobic quotes written by Rowling herself. At the end of Rosetta’s reporting, she wrote, “I’ve not found a single truly transphobic message,” and then declared to Twitter, “You’re burning the wrong witch.”
The lack of nuance surrounding language here is appalling, and that is putting it lightly considering this Pamela Paul’s piece is published in a credible and highly esteemed company like The New York Times. I can’t help but reminded of all the times women spoke out against men—their sly jokes, sexual harassment through language and thinly veiled misogyny—only for women to be told, “It’s not that serious,” or, “Oh, but he was just joking,”or, “It’s not like he put his hands on you.”
As writers, we should be reading between the lines, especially considering that what is being written between the lines is so clear—going against the very basics of trans identity and experience, and opting instead to coddle one of the most influential women in the world as if she just needs a gentle slap on the wrist or a stern talking to.
I am all for reading pieces with differing opinions than my own, but when it is being published at a place such as The New York Times, you would think they would representing the source material in a professional and editorial manner. But I guess that is the defense recently—everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Yet, they leave out the part where they insinuate that opinion needs no context, sources, nor basis in the reality of the situation.
And that is not even bringing the fact J.K. Rowling has received praise from the likes of dictator Vladimir Putin and Christian fascist Matt Walsh. I mean, need I say more?