A few months ago, in one single, incredibly disappointing tweet, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling outed herself as a TERF.
The acronym TERF stands for "Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist" and is reserved for people who seem to stand for liberal feminist ideologies in regards to women's rights while simultaneously espousing transphobic sentiments.
Rowling's Tweet under the hashtag #IStandWithMaya is in reference to the case of Maya Forstater, a London-based tax expert who sued the charitable organization she worked for after they decided not to renew her contract over transphobic tweets. The case hinged on whether or not Forstater's Tweets, which included trans-exclusionary and absolutist sentiments like "men cannot change into women," were protected under the 2010 Equality Act.
Ultimately, the employment judge, Judge James Taylor, ruled against Forstater, stating:
"I conclude from...the totality of the evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society."
Forstater, in turn, doubled down, saying:
"My belief...is that sex is a biological fact, and is immutable. There are two sexes, male and female. Men and boys are male. Women and girls are female. It is impossible to change sex. These were until very recently understood as basic facts of life by almost everyone."
Now, in the midst of a global pandemic and massive political and cultural unrest, Rowling is at it again.
If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased… https://t.co/1NlkCzXfnB— J.K. Rowling (@J.K. Rowling)1591480967.0
The tweets went on.
I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with y… https://t.co/43bx3H433Q— J.K. Rowling (@J.K. Rowling)1591485393.0
Putting aside the science, which is far more complex than just "male genitalia=male, female genitalia=female," the notion that Forstater was fired simply because she stated "a biological fact" is a dishonest premise that should be rejected outright. Forstater wasn't fired for her beliefs, but rather for her inability to treat trans people with the basest level of human decency.
Refusing to address someone by their preferred pronouns/gender identity, and choosing to only refer to them by their biological sex organs, is discrimination. Discriminating against trans people should not be, and increasingly is not, an acceptable form of behavior. For someone who works with other people, especially for a charitable organization based around rectifying inequality, transphobic behavior creates a hostile work environment, and no employer is obligated to condone that.
It's not exactly surprising to see some random boomer being transphobic and then having a temper tantrum when the consequences of their transphobia are backed up by the legal system. It is, however, extremely saddening and somewhat ironic to see J.K. Rowling jumping on that bandwagon.
The Harry Potter universe has always been predicated on inclusion and acceptance. Voldemort's entirely ideology was based around pureblood supremacy, meaning that the entire thrust of the series revolved around defeating a man hellbent on oppressing others. Harry Potter, by contrast, experienced abuse and stigmatization throughout much of childhood.
It's no wonder, then, that the series appealed to so many young LGBTQ+ people trying to make sense of their own identities. In fact, some even used Harry Potter fanfiction as a form of exploring their sexuality and gender identity in a proverbial safe space. And while Rowling drew some degree of criticism for what many fans viewed as a half-assed attempt at LGBTQ+ inclusion with her "Dumbledore was actually gay!" Tweet, nobody ever doubted that she championed acceptance—at least until now.
Some of the comments on Rowling's post are absolutely heartbreaking, with the betrayal felt by transgender fans and their loved ones on full display.
@jk_rowling I grew up as a trans child reading your books as an escape. I would often pick out names from character… https://t.co/V3lrt9LNX1— Lily! says ACAB (@Lily! says ACAB)1576760977.0
@jk_rowling In fact, the World Health Organization--among countless other medical authorities--validate trans peopl… https://t.co/vtaKorI9Yx— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈)1576764102.0
Now that Rowling has aligned herself with the TERFs, people are dredging up the "Hatsune Miku created Minecraft" meme to declare that Hatsune Miku, the virtual Japanese singer, also wrote the Harry Potter books. The meme began as an LGBTQ+ response to Minecraft's creator, Notch, outing himself as a transphobe (and also a racist), essentially joking that rather than giving up something they loved because it was created by a prejudiced person, they would instead pretend it was created by a cute anime hologram who could never betray them.
The real creator of Harry PotterCrypton Future Media
But while Rowling has certainly hurt a lot of fans with her Tweet, the goal shouldn't be to cancel her, so much as to implore her to reassess her beliefs. Why would Rowling want to defend someone who refuses to refer to transgender people by their stated identity? Why would she want to hurt her fans, many of whom spent their entire lives looking up to her, like this? Why would she want to promote discrimination? J.K. Rowling should know better than anyone that no good can come from aligning with the Dark Lord.
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Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
Not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
October 21, 2020 marks the third annual International Pronouns Day.
Created by an independent board and first observed in 2018, it's one of those small commemorative holidays that trends on Twitter in hopes of drawing attention to a pressing social issue, like International Women's Day (March 8th) or the ever so serious National Taco Day (October 4).
But Pronouns Day in particular "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." The organization's website further describes, "Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people's multiple, intersecting identities."
But in the words of nonbinary activist and Trevor Project's Head of Advocacy and Government Afairs, Sam Brenton, "Pronouns are hard." Never before have pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are in 2019 for their power to (in)validate or accurately describe something as fluid as gender identity. In fact, it was only this year that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary expanded the definition of "they" "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" (thus codifying a long history in English language of using "they" to refer to a singular non-gendered entity).
‘Everyone has the responsibility to be respectful.’ — The @TrevorProject’s Sam Brinton is explaining why pronouns a… https://t.co/pMMO8KRvBR— NowThis (@NowThis)1571253180.0
But throwing an additional wrench in the works is the fact that not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
Take me, for instance: Despite having female biology, I couldn't pass a lie detector test saying I'm a "woman." But my pragmatic, Puritan family is still endearingly confused by the idea of "liberal arts," let alone the notion of gender fluidity. And I'd rather share a communal language with them than do the emotional and mental labor of re-orienting their worldview for them. Plus, I have the privilege of passing as female without feeling too, too, terribly dysphoric (which non-binary people can definitely suffer from, despite not identifying as trans).
But enough about me, look at Queer Eye's beloved Jonathan Van Ness. While he's been outspoken about being genderqueer, gay, and HIV positive, he prefers he/him pronouns. "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary," Van Ness said. "I'm gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman." As he told Out magazine, he doesn't identify as a man, but he does prefer "he/him/his" pronouns. In his view, those pronouns don't detract from or contradict his non-binary identity, because gender is not about simple binaries between masculine and feminine identifiers. "Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it," he said. "I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It's this social construct that I don't really feel like I fit into the way I used to."
On the other hand, last month non-binary singer Sam Smith announced that their preferred pronouns are "they/them." Smith posted to Instagram, "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." People like Smith and Trevor Project's Sam Brenton simply feel more validated, seen, heard, and true to themselves with gender-neutral pronouns. Smith wrote, "I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*ck it!"
Most importantly, as pretty much every non-binary person and activist is aware, changing cultural norms is hard. While LGBTQ+ activism is inspired and passionate and dedicated to expanding human rights to all gender identities, we all know that changing society's entire understanding of gender and pronoun usage is about slowly opening minds. As Smith wrote, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you." Happy Pronouns Day to you/him/her/they/(f)aer/zim.