I've written about J.K.Rowling's work before (see here), and, in a little booklet - 'Defence Against the Dark Arts' (free to download here)- used some of it to help dispel trans (and wider 'queer') phobia and enlarging the mental health and life of others. So it is highly disappointing to see her write an essay recently in which she develops her anti-transgender views. Tragically, she both conflates her own personal history of earlier life mental health struggles with young people's quite distinct gender dysphoria and uses her own awful experiences of abuse to justify exclusion of many trans female people from women's spaces. Such arguments coming from such an influential person are disturbing and only add petrol to the destructive fires of renewed attacks on transgender people in cultural and legal-political arenas. Thankfully this week's judgement by the US Supreme Court re-points us to the way forward for all. For J.K.Rowling seems sadly to be currently trapped by the too pernicious, and too common, notion that the safety and freedom of one oppressed group depends on curtailing that of one or more other oppressed group. What however is so badly needed today is not simply fighting for our sectional interests, but also a coming together of all who have been oppressed, abused, or silenced, So, whilst they disagree profoundly with her views on gender, it is so good to see leading trans activists this week 'standing alongside J.K.Rowling' against the latest misogynistic attacks by the UK tabloid newspaper The Sun (see, for example, articles here and here). For as Nim Ralph, the coordinator of the open letter says:
“I was as hurt as the next trans person by her essay. But our struggles are connected.. We have always been here in the fight against misogyny and gender-based violence; we will always speak up against it and fight back where we see it. Patriarchy is our shared oppressor.”
Shocked by the media exposure of details of the writer's past experience of abuse, the letter is a call on all who suffer from oppression of various kinds to rise beyond our differences to support one another in each of our struggles and to create a society which fully values every person. To do so, means recognising that none of us are truly free until all of us are free. We will all remain vulnerable, and worse, unless we let go of the idea that freedom is a competition, or a limited good rather than a source of growth for us all. Billy Bragg expressed this powerfully in his song 'Never Buy The Sun' - You Tube recording here - reflecting on the way in which Rupert Murdoch and powerful empires exploit and create misery in all kinds of people's lives. Instead, we need the human solidarity which the people of Liverpool (the 'Scousers' of the song) displayed after the terrible Hillsborough football stadium tragedy. Instead of turning the blame on victims and survivors of abuse, as The Sun did then and have done again this week with J.K.Rowling, we must together reject the purveyors of fear and hate, challenging their destructive power and enlarging our own. As Billy Bragg put it:
Tabloids make their millions betting bullshit baffles brains
And they cynically hold up their hands if anyone complains
And they say: "All we're doing is giving people what they want"
Well, they're crying out for justice, people crying out for justice
In the corridors of power they all sit down to sup
With the devil and his minions, and they ask for his opinions
And the politicians wring their hands and cry: "What's to be done?"
But the Scousers never buy the Sun...
Some days I am staggered at how demented (I use the word advisedly) and upside-down our world is! Three of the greatest mental illnesses of our day, for example, are homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. How strange it is therefore that it the victims and survivors of them who are often tarred with the mental illness brush. Indeed it is not so long since being trans was listed worldwide as a mental ill-health condition and today there are still requirements of seeing psychologists and/or psychiatrists and/or other doctors for some treatments. Rarely however do we see calls for treatment for those who perpetrate such outrageous transphobic, biphobic and homophobic comments and actions. To some of them we even give status and attention, as leading politicians, religious and other cultural leaders. Increasingly therefore we need to continue to work on what, borrowing from Harry Potter imagery, we may call 'Defence Against the Dark Arts'. This, for me, is part of what is represented by IDAHOBIT (the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia), marked each year on 17 May. Our task together, on this and every day, is to call out the Dementors of our world and nurture the 'divine magic' of compassion and creativity in us all..
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: