To the editor,
Between COVID-19 and the uprisings against racism, one could be forgiven for missing the other crisis afflicting our reality: the wizarding world is on fire because its creator, J.K. Rowling, doesn’t believe trans women are women or that trans men are men. This is mind-boggling for the generations of young people who learned, through her books, to love and accept themselves and to love and accept people who are different.
Rowling’s essay explaining her views makes clear that she feels threatened by trans women. She’s not just afraid of imaginary bathroom assailants. She’s also afraid that the existence of trans women undermines her identity as a woman. That identity is important to her, and it’s evident from her essay that issues of gender and sexuality haven’t always been easy for her. She raises an interesting metaphysical question: what is the essence of a woman, or of a man?
But this isn’t an abstract debate about metaphysics. This is life or death, dignity or degradation. The Human Rights Campaign reports that alarming numbers of trans young people attempt suicide. This can be traced to the rejection, harassment, and bullying fueled by the denial of their existence by people like Rowling.
I don’t know what it’s like to be trans. But I’ve seen what happens to a person forced to live a lie. My father’s youngest brother was raised to hate who he was. One gay man, two failed marriages, depression, suicide attempts, hospitalizations. None of that had to happen.
J.K. Rowling knows better. The right answer is always the one that sides with human dignity and affirms a person’s lived experience. She knows this because it’s a central theme of the Harry Potter series. She wrote about the equality of magical and non-magical people despite entrenched prejudices, about acknowledging the dignity of house elves, giants, and werewolves. It’s no surprise that LGBTQ readers felt betrayed by her rejection of trans women and men.
But Rowling’s metaphysical worries are unfounded. Trans women aren’t changing what it means to be a woman. Instead, they’re overcoming great obstacles to be everything a woman can be. In the wizarding world, the villains believe “pureblood” wizards are superior to “Muggle-born” wizards (those with non-magical parents.) But they’re all wizards, just the same. That’s the answer to Rowling’s question. Trans women are women, regardless of how they were born.