An Open Letter to J.K. Rowling

Hi Ms. Rowling,

I have to be honest – despite my age I did not jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon with my peers. My first real exposure to the characters was watching the Half-Blood Prince on television around the time Deathly Hallows Part II was hitting theatres. So, a bit late to the party but I did become a Hermione fan and had to confirm that I was a Hufflepuff.

The tone of this letter will probably come as little surprise then. It’s not meant to offer a full-throated defence of your positions and it’s not meant to offer the strong condemnation to which you are undoubtedly accustomed. People will dislike it, but my tendency is to be conciliatory.

Let me begin then by saying that I support quite a bit of your stated positions. I think it’s invaluable to have someone of your stature and influence speaking out for women. You have raised many important issues to public attention and you stand firm on your positions. I’m sorry that you have received so many threats, especially those of a violent nature, as civilised society has no place for those.

That said, we have points of disagreement and the most significant of which is your public statements and their impact on trans rights.

I believe you are a strong feminist, but I also believe it’s an outdated and frankly white version of feminism. Much of your activism seems to come from a personal place and that fire is admirable. Having such a strong personal foundation comes at the cost of intersectionality.

Women, as you know, are not a monolith. While women taken as a group face issues unique to them, the same is true of any group. And while I also contend that the unique issues facing women take a particular focus over those facing men because of the privilege element, we might also be aware that these imbalances exist all over society. Black women will face unique challenges unknown to most white women. Wealthy women and poor women have unique challenges.

While I have no particular issue with your attitudes towards feminism, I do find that they are insensitive to these matters of intersectionality at times. In no case is this more apparent than with trans rights.

I also believe you when you say that you do not hate trans people and that you are not transphobic. That is where I would attempt to persuade your thinking with this letter – not with your general worldview. What many are asking you to understand is that while you may have no conscious dislike or phobia towards trans persons (trans women especially), the way you phrase your positions regarding women does active harm to people in that community.

Intent does not matter, as we are taught time and again in harassment seminars. What matters is the impact on the other person. Yes, you may have no malice in your heart towards trans people, but your high-profile statements do them harm and are therefore transphobic. While you voice valid concerns about the threats you have received in response to your statements, they never seem to show compassion for the active harm that your statements help facilitate against the trans community.

Yes, cisgender women have a different experience than transgender women. The very concept that society sees a transgender woman as a man from birth means they receive all of the discrimination that comes with being a man (discrimination in this case which results in considerable privilege).

But that privilege comes only with the prejudice of society seeing someone as a man and discriminating accordingly. The moment that persons gender identity appears at odds with that prejudice (that is, they begin to act in accordance with being a woman), society adds an intense layer of negative prejudice and a decided lack of privilege. Yes, this is different than the generalised experience of women, but it’s still an experience ranging from difficult to harrowing.

I seek to be an ally to both communities through my action and continued learning so that I can avoid personal prejudice and unconscious bias as best I can, and to call others when I observe them doing the same. I want to become less comfortable with reaping the benefits of my privilege so that I can help those unjustly disadvantaged to a place of true equity.

This requires the sometimes painful discussion, like telling an accomplished woman and devout feminist that her public platform is causing harm to a group of people. Your views on want a safe and equitable world for women are valuable and necessary – they simply require calibration to achieve it without coming at the expense of others.

Yes, you have important insights into these matters, but the idea that you are not doing harm to the trans community is an indefensible position. They are crying out to you about it and finding only resistance; no compassion. It is critical in the pursuit of human rights that we find a way to balance these things and prominent voices such as yours carry such influence that people must challenge you any time that voice provides ammunition to those who hate.

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