J. K. Rowling is under attack for the sin of believing that sex is real and has lived consequences.
“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction,” she tweeted Saturday. “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
Rowling, a feminist who generally supports the LGBTQ movement, added, “I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them.”
For LGBTQ activists, Rowling’s statements proved she is a TERF (a trans-exclusionary radical feminist), a derogatory term activists use to brand leftist feminists who dare to question transgender orthodoxy in the name of protecting the rights of lesbians and women.
Earlier on Saturday, Rowling had challenged the phrase “people who menstruate,” garnering responses such as this one from singer Mary Lambert: “When you push this trans exclusionary agenda, you make their lives infinitely more difficult. Shame on you.”
This is not the first time Rowling has challenged the power of the transgender movement. In December 2019, she offered support for British researcher Maya Forstater, who had lost her job after saying on Twitter that transgender women cannot change their biological sex. The backlash then was also intense for Rowling, with the LGBTQ organization GLAAD stating that Rowling had “aligned herself with an anti-science ideology that denies the basic humanity of people who are transgender.” But the famous author has not backed down, drawing activist and actress Jameela Jamil to declare her “un-cancellable” due to her billionaire status earned from her Harry Potter success.
There is a good reason the backlash against Rowling from LGBTQ organizations and media is so intense: the British author’s argument threatens to tear down the coherence of the LGBTQ movement, in fact revealing that LGBTQ orthodoxies on transgender people and on gay men and lesbian women logically contradict one another.
Beliefs about gay men and lesbian women are built upon the understanding that they are inherently attracted to people of only their same biological sex. Same-sex attraction is thus understood by the LGBTQ community to be an immutable characteristic, not a feeling that develops.
Transgenderism, on the other hand, is constructed on the understanding that how someone feels about one’s self can overcome biological sex. Thus, a transgender woman is not understood to be a man at all, but rather a woman who is entitled to access women’s prisons, women’s locker rooms, and women’s sports. And further, this thinking raises the question: Is there such a thing as a woman if a man can join the female sex by declaring he feels like one?
If sex can be thrown out the window, the understanding of gay and lesbian people is fundamentally challenged. Without the reality of sex, the immutable characteristic that makes gays and lesbians who they are understood to be — same sex–attracted — is erased.
TV producer Malcolm Clark expressed this understanding in a tweet, which was retweeted by Rowling. “@jk_rowling has pinpointed why so many gay peeps are concerned about the new version of trans activism,” Clark said. “We used to be comrade-in-arms with our trans mates until some extremists insisted biological sex was an illusion. Our legal protections and our identities are based on it.”
Rowling’s logical argument about LGBTQ orthodoxy threatens the unanimity of the LGBTQ movement expressed today across media, business, and academia. The LGBTQ institutional machine would undoubtedly lose some of its influence if its consensus was shattered and the community became splintered between transgender activists, gay and lesbian activists, and feminist activists.
In the UK, the dissent to LGBTQ orthodoxy by “gender-critical feminists” is much broader, and it is expressed in organizations such as Standing for Women, Fair Play for Women, and Women’s Place, which seek to preserve civil rights protections for women and girls as a distinct category.
In the United States and Canada, however, LGBTQ activists have been very successful in stomping down on feminist objections to transgender orthodoxy.
Last year, students and alumni of the University of California–Santa Barbara demanded the firing of gender-critical feminist graduate student Laura Tanner, whose Twitter banner reads, “A woman is a person with a female body and any personality, not a female personality and any body.” The university later employed the Title IX office to look into Tanner, with the department chair of feminist studies calling her posts “distressing.”
In Canada, a women-only rape relief shelter in Vancouver was defunded by the city council and vandalized with graffiti because the shelter’s peer-support groups and housing programs are reserved for biological women. The graffiti said, “Kill TERFS” and “F*** TERFS.” A woman seeking relief at the shelter also found a dead rat nailed to the front door.
The LGBTQ movement in the United States retains its unity among a conglomeration of transgender activist groups, gay activist groups, and non-binary activist groups. But dissent overseas, including from the author of Harry Potter, threatens this consensus.