ACADEMIC RECONSIDERATION OF WHAT CAUSES HARM
The current effort to rescue J.K. Rowling from the abuse she has endured is part of the trend to re-evaluate the “woke” movement that has moved into intimidation and imaginary victimization. Because of her astronomical celebrity status, whatever she does takes on magnified significance, as does whatever happens to her. So, it’s mostly not about the content of her argument about gender and the law, but it’s about the impact she has.
Rowling is being excoriated because of her advocacy of “women’s right to spaces for biological women only,” and because “she has insisted that when it comes to determining a person’s legal gender status, self-declared gender identity is insufficient.” Others have advocated these things, but Rowling is bold and famous and she is recognized as a leader, and therefore is targeted as an opponent to Trans women who are trying to gain freedom and rights. She has been branded a TERF (“trans-exclusionary radical feminist”) and “trans-phobic.” She is fighting back.
As we emerge from the mire (as it seems we are doing) where imagined harm is treated as if it is just as damaging as all other kinds of physical and social attack, and where all disagreement on the harm is equally harmful (and punishable to the fullest possible extent), we are struggling to find a balance. Indeed, the struggle is to regain a rational definition of truth and facts. We are not yet within reach of this. It is unclear how much will be left of our 300-year consensus about the nature and value of education when we manage to settle this struggle. But the mood is shifting.
Meanwhile, according to those who are trying to insert sense into the fight, the highlighted issue is which marginalized group is most in need: trans men and women in their effort to gain basic human rights, or women who have survived abuse and are trying to develop legal means to protect themselves from threats. Rowling insists she is defending women in need of legal protection. In the process of undertaking this noble effort, she has been attacked and is a victim of injustice.
J.K. Rowling, whose influence rivals royalty, and who would be hard-pressed to produce evidence of having suffered actual financial or physical harm, is claiming to have been harmed (or the claim is being made in her behalf) while the rebuttal to those (trans and others) who oppose her is that “imagined harm is simply less consequential than actual damage or credible threats.” In other words, “My imagined harm is more important than your imagined harm.”
This is one of those “one or the other” times. It is undeniable that Trans people are being subjected to murder, discrimination, social ejections, and obstruction from resources. They need help. It is obvious that Rowling’s more rigorous legal controls over who can say “I am the gender I say I am” are not helpful to them. Rowling makes the argument that these legal measures will protect an equally endangered group: women who have reason to be scared due to past experiences, and women who can’t come to terms with the removal of the binary concept.
I predict that Rowling and friends will say, in forthcoming podcasts and writings, that it’s high time to have a clear way to separate women from “women-want-to-bees” and pretenders, and to protect children and adolescents from being swept into life-changing measures before they really know what it’s all about. She may need to concede that these legal measures will impinge on unrestricted freedoms, but not more than other safety laws we have had to accept and have grown to appreciate.
For me, on this side of the world and in close contact with all manner of gender ambiguity, there is far too much that is invasive and wrong about legal processes that impose physical examinations to establish biological identities which over-ride all other considerations. This is going to replace one set of bullies with another.
[Note: the picture accompanying this blog is of LGBTIQA advocate extraordinaire, Sirisak and a friend at a Pride event last year. Both are representatives of the sector J.K. Rowling is trying to protect “real women” from. I will argue that a physical exam in which authorities get to see more of the anatomies of these two and hundreds of thousands of others, will not establish a valuable degree of clarity about what gender they are on a continuum, nor will it help protect “real” biological women from men who terrify them.]
We can do better than this.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.