Harry Potter and the Prison of Silence

It’s been a rollercoaster week for anyone interested in the trans issue (particularly in the UK). The week kicked off for me with a series of tweets from JK Rowling, a ton of abuse on social media (a lot of which showed complete disgust with the older female body) for her, an impassioned essay she posted on her website, and a complete rejection of her point of view by almost all the young people who had acted in her films.

There’s a bit about the abuse she has received here:


I also enjoyed discussion of JKR and the reaction to her essay in this podcast with Meghan Murphy:

While I was able to talk openly about this on my feminist Facebook account, and the various WhatsApp feminist chats I am on, my personal Facebook account was a different story. This is where I keep up with old friends from uni, former flatmates, with neighbours, with people I met on holiday… a completely diverse bunch. A couple are trans, some are gender-critical feminist. Some of them know my history, for others it feels like too much information to share. The JK Rowling essay blew me away – it articulated some of my own concerns on the issue in a way that felt as if she was speaking for me. I wanted to share it but actually felt like I was walking on eggshells. So when an old friend who is just generally interested in a range of news media posted the essay and said he thought it was well written, even if he disagreed with some of it, I thought this might be a way for me to show some support for JKR. I posted a brief comment saying: “She has pretty much summed up a lot of what I want to say about the issue. It’s worth reading.” Other responses were very positive about the article and the quality of JKR’s writing. However, an old acquaintance took it upon herself to tell me: “Fuck off you nasty TERF.” This turned into a diatribe against me. JKR was evil, I was a racist, we were Trump supporters etc. She messaged me privately, telling me “stop putting your hateful TERF crap out into the world. Shame on you. Here’s hoping you learn to stop using your privilege to hurt and start doing something with it.” The other people on the thread were told they mustn’t listen to me, I was a Nazi, and I had no friends because no one could be around my hatred. My uni friend deleted what posts he could but eventually gave up and deleted the whole thread.

I’ve taken a lot of abuse on Twitter but to have this going on openly on my general Facebook account felt incredibly exposed and unsafe. I’ve heard lots of stories from women who have lost old friends and have close relatives who won’t speak to them over this issue. It’s devastating. And I write a blog about this issue! Shouldn’t I have the courage to be open with everyone I know?

I reel between a desire for complete transparency about my history and my views and the sense that it’s a gamble – and I have nowhere near as much to lose as JKR, who is now seeing people burn her books. And it’s given me such gratitude for the spaces we find for speaking openly, particularly when trans widows and children of transitioners find spaces. There’s a sense of safety there. When you are in a supportive space you can feel the tension that you hold with you all the time finally leaving your body.

I have been pondering this issue in relation to a piece by @transwidows in UncommonGround, about the women’s movement and trans contributors. Click on the text below to read:

The piece argues that a lot of feminist meetings in the UK on the topic of transgenderism have trans speakers and contributors who are often treated as especially important (yes, even in feminist meetings, men still have status!). As the piece notes: “The inclusion of transsexual “allies” in feminism, excludes trans widows.” Particularly as many of these contributors are late-stage autogynephile transitioners with wives and children. It hasn’t escaped the attention of a lot of women either that when newspapers looked for a comment piece on JKR they didn’t ask feminists – they asked ‘trans women’, some of whom feel that they can speak for feminists.

I was liberated from my father when I realised that his voice was not more important than mine. My feelings are equally important. And my interests are different.

There is an important point here. It’s not about saying that our trans parents aren’t worth listening to, or don’t deserve our love, or however we feel about them. It’s about saying that we are separate people with separate needs. Just as I was policed by a female ‘friend’, it’s easy to feel policed by our parents, friends, trans activists, the main stream media. Is there a way for feminists to help trans widows and female CoTs by making sure that they have some meetings without a trans person in the room, where we feel able to speak openly about our experience and needs?

The week ended with very welcome news that the UK government has abandoned plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act, which would basically have allowed any man to identify as a woman and access women’s facilities. Although a government consultation had received a 70% pro-self-id response, analysis had shown that this was due to a huge push by trans activists and didn’t represent the views of the public.

I also learned that others on that Facebook thread felt I had been bullied. One of them contacted me to learn more about my point of view and asked to read my blog.

Sometimes our voices are muted, but it doesn’t mean that no one’s listening.