JK Rowling’s tweets perfectly illustrate the ‘gender critical’ fixation with using gay issues against trans people

Matrim Tait
·6-min read
AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

JK Rowling has once again decided to grace us with her opinion on trans people. This time, after it was discovered that she liked a tweet which characterised anti-depressants as “lazy” medicine and compared being transgender to mental illness.

After the inevitable callout, the Harry Potter author responded with an 11-tweet thread that contained several troubling claims, starting with a bizarre explanation that she had: "Ignored porn tweeted at children on a thread about their art" as well as "death and rape threats", but drew the line at criticism over her apparent views. Thereafter, she moved back into familiar territory, once again outlining her concerns about young trans people transitioning and her worries over the side effects of hormone therapy.

As unsurprising as Rowling's now globally recognised views on trans people are, what's increasingly clear each time these tirades occur, is what I see as a compulsion to trivialise gay history and LGBT+ issues. Whether it's Rowling or her supporters, the arguable aim seems to be geared towards signalling compassion and acceptance while simultaneously pushing dangerous narratives about transgender people. Among other unfounded claims, Rowling tweeted:

“Many health professionals are concerned that young people struggling with their mental health are being shunted towards hormones and surgery when this may not be in their best interests.”

“Many, myself included, believe we are watching a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people, who are being set on a lifelong path of medicalisation that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function.”

The implication that being trans is a mental illness isn't just wildly irresponsible, it's untrue. The transgender community has been wrongly saddled with the diagnosis of a mental disorder for many years, echoing the unjust historical categorisation of homosexuality as a mental illness, another misstep by the medical field that took decades to be reversed. The reality is that transgender people are just part of the natural diversity of humanity and we have existed for thousands of years. The medical field can often take a while to catch up with progress in social attitudes, but The WHO finally stopped classifying being transgender as a mental disorder in 2019. The lie that trans teens are merely confused is often used as a barrier to treatment, and stigmatises the community by pushing the idea that we are not really who we say we are – we are just deluded by mental illness. For transphobes to use mental health as an excuse to deny trans people medical treatment is frustrating, especially as acceptance of a trans person’s identity is vital for their mental health.

Rowling's comparison of gender-affirming treatment of young trans people to conversion therapy, an abusive pseudoscience which the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims characterises as a form of torture, is wrong in multiple ways.

Gender-affirming therapy is not conversion therapy. The current guidance given by the NHS and APA is to approach gender non-conforming youths with an open mind and lack of judgement. Particular emphasis is given to not delaying treatment, and attempting to dissuade a young trans person from transition is deemed unethical. Treatment is not rushed, patients are not directed one way or the other regarding identity, and they are fully informed about risks and side-effects. Permanent therapies are only prescribed once the young person is old enough.

Counter to Rowling’s assertion to the contrary, the ideas espoused by the gender-critical movement aim to persuade trans people that they are not trans, which is, in fact, a form of conversion therapy. This is because gender, much like sexuality, is innate and it is impossible and cruel to attempt to force trans children to conform to the gender they were assigned at birth. Organisations such as The Trevor Project include attempts to change gender identity in their definition of conversion therapy, because forcing people to deny their very identities, utilising a range of invasive and damaging methods, is wrong. Supporting trans children, therefore, is actually the opposite of this harmful practice. Gay children have been subjected to horrific abuse through so-called "reparative" therapy. Conflating this abuse with the legitimate medical guidelines set by experts far more knowledgeable than her in this particular field trivialises a practice many are still fighting to make illegal in the UK.

Rowling’s apparent assumption that trans kids are gays in denial and that transitioning is a form of homophobia, or an attempt to make young gay people straight, ignores the experiences of many non-heterosexual trans people, myself included. There are many gay trans men and trans feminine lesbians, as well as many asexual trans individuals. Doctors are not prescribing treatment in order to erase homosexuality. The claim is ridiculous and simply does not align with the stories of many trans people who would have been considered “straight” before their transition.

It is a common lamentation by transphobic cohorts that non-conforming people are transitioning unnecessarily; often stated in reference to trans men, “why can’t they just be butch?” These claims are rooted in a misunderstanding of what it means to be trans but there is also significant evidence that the recent panic over trans people using bathrooms is causing society to become stricter with what constitutes a man or a woman. The gender-critical movement has pushed the myth that trans people are invading spaces in which they do not belong, or encouraging predators to pretend they are trans to do so.

This is not happening, but the myth is also having a detrimental effect on those butch lesbians the movement claims to care about. Cisgender women, assumed to be trans, are being harassed for using the women’s bathroom. Many of these women are lesbians who do not conform to gender roles. As well as the infamous video of the lesbian being kicked out of a bathroom for not being feminine enough, there were more cases from Connecticut, Dakota, Hull, Texas and Australia. It has become clear that this gender-critical movement is the one enforcing gender stereotypes, not trans people.

The gender-critical movement doesn’t truly care about gays and lesbians, they are simply exploiting them and the issues they face to dress up their own bigotry in a veil of concern. They invoke the erasure of butch lesbians, conversion therapy, and other issues, but they are not truly allies. It is insulting to members of the LGBT+ community that their issues are twisted and co-opted in this way by straight, cis feminists who want to deny trans people their rights.

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