The Thing JK Rowling Doesn’t Get About Trans Folk

The thing ‘gender essentialists’ don’t get about the transgender experience

Cassie Brighter
Dec 19, 2019 · 6 min read
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“Dress however you like” is code for, trans women are not women, they’re men in dresses. “Call yourself whatever you like” is code for “you can go around calling yourself a girl, or a bird, or a penguin for all I care — but of course that’s not real.”
“Sleep with…” is a conflation of gender identity and sexuality, a common error of the uninformed.
“Live your best life…” is a pleasant banality.
“But force women out of their jobs…?” means she stands in support of Maya Forstater, a notorious transphobe fired from her job for a multitude of anti-trans tweets, indicating a bias that made her unfit for her position.
It’s not that hidden.

The tragedy of Forstater’s stance — and Rowling’s by public endorsement — is that they will INSIST they’re not being anti-trans. They just don’t understand the condition. They honestly believe we are ‘men challenging constricting gender norms.’

I’m not challenging gender norms. Well, I am, insofar as my daughter is concerned, or my son. My son can cry if he wants to, and I’d send him to ballet class if that’s what he wanted. My daughter can be a surgeon or a fighter-jet pilot if that’s what she wants. This is 2020, and it’s time to get over the patriarchy-driven bullshit. But when it comes to my core, my identity, my SELF, I am NOT fighting gender norms, I just happen to be a woman.

Women have been fighting for their rights as long as the human race has been around. There have been strong women pushing against the cage of gender norms for millennia.

In a society deeply divided in two sexes, with one sex subjugating the other, this fight has been a noble fight, a necessary fight. A painful one.

This fight, positing men on one side of the struggle as the oppressor, and women on the other side of the struggle as the oppressed, has played out in the ideas put forward by the likes of Anna Wheeler, Madeleine de Puisieux, Catharina Ahlgren and many others.

When these writers were writing about sexism, they were talking about a dyadic argument — men vs women. These thinkers didn’t account for the flourishes, rivulets and nuances in the tapestry of gender. At times of war, you think of your own as “us,” and the enemy as “those people.”

This kind of polarized thinking can be dangerous. As feminism has evolved, modern feminists understand patriarchy as the toxic construct that keeps both women AND men imprisoned in constricting, often toxic societal norms. Women not to be trusted with positions of leadership. Men not to be allowed to express vulnerability or emotion. We all suffer. Men often mistreat women as a result of the damage done to them by toxic aspects of masculinity — “rules” forced on them since they were little boys. Women can be passive-aggressive and manipulative, the result of centuries of surviving in the lethal environment of a man-dominated society. None of this acknowledged nor accounted for sexual minorities or gender variations. As a matter of fact, this movement often didn’t account for race, for income, for political context.

Feminism has evolved. Today’s intersectional feminism does account for such things. We know now that the struggle of a poor Black single mother is different than the struggle of an upper-class white Parisienne. We know now that capitalism feeds on patriarchy and patriarchy is a tool of capitalism. Things are interconnected. Oppressions intermingle.

First-Wave Feminism excluded Black women. The Civil Rights movement fought for Black people, but mostly for Black men. Second Wave feminism fought for women, but mostly white women. No one, no one was fighting for Queer women. And no one ever stopped to consider transgender women existed.

The Queer Liberation movement, started in 1969, changed the landscape. Lesbians became visible. Trans women became visible. We became the inconvenient nuance in the battle of the sexes. However, the fact that we started becoming visible in the last half-century does not mean we did not exist prior to that. We’ve always existed.

The problem with Maya Forstater’s view, and of JK Rowling’s view by her open endorsement of Forstater’s stance, is that they’re actively choosing to reject existing scientific thought on the nature of the transgender phenomenon. They’re choosing to close the door on Transgender and Intersex people. A similar mechanism existed in the Civil Rights Movement, with some white-passing women not meeting the Litmus test of Blackness, and being rejected by their own people for “not being Black enough.”

Trans women are not woman enough.

At first sight, this is an easy position to take. Male body at birth.

Consider this. Imagine a MacBook system that was accidentally placed in the shell of a Dell laptop. You’ll have something that very much looks like a PC laptop. However, you power it up, here’s the million-dollar question: What OS comes up? Does this laptop respond as a PC? Of course not. It’s still a Mac.

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Forstater believes the transgender condition isn’t real. She believes trans women are ‘men in dresses.’ She believes we are men playing dress-up, masquerading as women. It’s a monumental lack of comprehension.

There are volumes of academic and scientific information documenting the transgender condition. There are over 40 million openly transgender people on the planet. We exist. We’re not a fiction nor an illusion.

Do we complicate the landscape of the “war of the sexes”? Undoubtedly.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” — an Albert Einstein quote dear to my heart.

Much hubbub is made by gender essentialists about “biological sex.” The reality of it, though, is that women have endured a second-class position not as a result of “biological sex” but out of social perceptions about gender.

Alan Hart did not live life as a woman — he lived out his life as a man and experienced male privilege. This was not a result of biological sex, but a result of his gender presentation, which in turn was fueled by his inherent gender identity.

Lucy Hicks Anderson lived life as a woman, suffered the discrimination women endure — and later, when exposed as transgender by a callous doctor, suffered even greater ignominy for being a trans woman.

This is not an argument about biological sex. This is an argument rooted on fear, prejudice, and a need for order and codification.

A lot of folks are freaking out about the chaos that gender has become. Two generations ago, either you were a man or you were a woman. Today, one might meet someone who’s a Genderqueer Femme Non-Binary Demigirl.

Every now and then some sensationalist transphobic news outlet gets ahold of video footage of a very non-passable (an ugly term denoting that the person does not look satisfactorily female to be viewed as a cisgender woman) trans woman and this is used to incite fear and uncertainty.

Yes, things are disorderly right now. Order is not always great. The stifling gender norms of the Victorian era were orderly. Fascism is orderly. Our of chaos you often get transformation, self-discovery, rebirth.

We’re living through times of great social change. We are discovering all the nuances, we’re exploring all the rivulets in the tapestry. We are learning new things, and finding new names for things.

What will become of us? Where will it end?

All I can say is, “somewhere better.”

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Cassie Brighter

Written by

Activist. Public speaker. Writer. Community Organizer. Mom. Creator & Host, Empowered Trans Woman Summit. Managing Editor,

Empowered Trans Woman

Highlighting the experience of women of trans experience. Transition, Womanhood, Feminism, Intersectionality, Transphobia, Marginalization and Assimilation, and more.

Cassie Brighter

Written by

Activist. Public speaker. Writer. Community Organizer. Mom. Creator & Host, Empowered Trans Woman Summit. Managing Editor,

Empowered Trans Woman

Highlighting the experience of women of trans experience. Transition, Womanhood, Feminism, Intersectionality, Transphobia, Marginalization and Assimilation, and more.

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