To J.K. Rowling: A reply to your letter on transgender issues.


(A very brief message to anyone who doesn’t know the background: The letter to which I’m replying is here, and was posted by JKR after numerous concerns about her views on transgender issues. The backstory about the concerns is… pretty much everywhere on the internet, so if you haven’t already seen it just search.)

 

Dear J.K. Rowling,

OK, this feels… seriously strange. I’m writing this to you but also to others reading or following the current discussion (I do plan to post this publicly on my blog) so it seems strange addressing it to you when I know that, realistically, out of all the people who might read it, you’re one person who almost certainly won’t. But I’m doing so because thinking of this as something you could potentially read keeps me focused on the fact that what I write here isn’t just addressing a collection of views and statements I disagree with, but a human being with real feelings about this.

So. I’m writing this because, having followed the story so far about things you’ve said on transgender-related subjects, I’ve now read the letter you posted on your website. And, whatever else I’ve thought about your views on this topic and how you’ve expressed them, I think that letter was an incredibly brave attempt to open up about something that’s really hard for you and about which you have genuine concerns, and I also know you speak for a lot of people who feel the same way.

And I also disagree with almost every point you made.

So what I want to do… well, I struggled to put this into words, but then realised you’d already done it for me. You wrote:

All I’m asking – all I want – is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse.

That’s it. That nails it. I want to be able to hear your concerns and extend sympathy and understanding and also extend that same empathy and understanding to the many, many trans people out there who also desperately need their concerns to be heard and understood without being met with threats or abuse. I want to keep that sympathy and understanding for all concerned at the forefront of my mind as I talk about the points you raised and explain why I disagree. And I hope that, even though you yourself will almost certainly never see this letter, at least some of the people who feel the same way as you will be willing to read what I write in that same spirit and to try for a greater overall understanding.

There’s so much in your letter I want to talk about, and it’s going to take me more than one post to do so. But in this post I’m going to skip straight to your last point, because it’s the nub of the whole thing. What you’ve voiced, here, is a fear that a lot of people hold. And I think that fact gets obscured sometimes by the way these same concerns are so often used as excuses by bigots to justify anti-trans agendas held for much darker reasons; in the midst of the damage those people cause, it’s easy to forget that many people quite genuinely are scared of the scenario you’ve just voiced here:

At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.

Firstly, before doing anything else, I want to correct one point, which is your claim that ‘gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones’. I think this might be technically correct, in that the current law in the UK doesn’t specify that a transgender person needs to have done anything physically about transitioning before applying for a GRC. It does, however, specify that a person can only apply if (among other restrictions) they have lived as the gender in question for two years and are over 18, and that sounds as though it would in practice be virtually impossible to do without physically transitioning. Also, from what I’ve read, getting a GRC is incredibly difficult under the current system; it certainly doesn’t sound as though, in practice, one would be issued to anyone who hadn’t already transitioned.

People are certainly campaigning to have GRCs issued much more easily (with good reason, from what I’ve read in the previous link), but, as far as I’ve been able to find out, the law hasn’t yet been changed. So, the law you have concerns about is actually a proposed law rather than one that’s currently in place. I know that doesn’t in itself affect your concerns, but thought it important to get the facts straight before starting to discuss them.

Anyway. The fear I assume you’re alluding to here – the one shared by many other people who have concerns about trans rights – is that making it easier to gain a gender recognition certificate will lead to male abusers fraudulently gaining gender confirmation certificates naming them to be female in order to enter bathrooms or changing rooms to… oh, well, you know the rest. And I get that that’s a prospect that many people find really concerning (especially, as you said, people with a history of abuse who can find it quite viscerally terrifying).

Here is what does not make sense and has never made sense to me about this scenario, though. Please tell me if you think I’m missing something, but…

Nobody has to show proof of gender to get into public toilets or changing rooms anyway.

(Warning: this discussion has the potential to be triggering to people who fear the thought of male abusers getting into women’s spaces.)

There is no-one standing outside women’s toilets making sure only people who are legally female get in. There usually is someone standing outside changing rooms, but that’s only to make sure people don’t steal the stock; I’ve never heard of anyone checking documentation on the people who go in. So, how does having or not having a gender recognition certificate make any practical difference to these things at all?

As far as I can find, it isn’t even illegal for men to enter women’s toilets. I mean, stop me if I’m wrong about that; I’m not a lawyer, I’m someone who spent five minutes doing an internet search. But I can’t see how it could, in practice, be made illegal for men to enter women’s toilets without causing masses of problems. There are cleaners who are male, there are severely disabled people who need help in toilets and have carers of the opposite gender, there are times when one set of toilets is out of order and the only option is to let people into the other set, there are people with medical conditions that mean they sometimes need a toilet so urgently they can’t take even a few seconds to run round a building looking for the one they’re supposed to be in. There are also thousands of transgender people who don’t have a gender confirmation certificate and thus, even if they’ve transitioned, are still legally recorded as whatever gender was assigned to them at birth. A blanket law stating that men can’t go into women’s toilets would affect people from all those groups… without actually doing much about the very group that we’re worried about here, since a sexual abuser is pretty much by definition not put off by the prospect of breaking the law.

Why is there all this worry that an abuser might go to the work of filling out a form and paying a fee (currently £140) to get access to a public toilet, when he can just walk straight in anyway?

I get that, for the people who are scared about this, that probably doesn’t help much. I get that fears aren’t logical and don’t just vanish as a result of being told that the thing in question isn’t actually harmful. I get that trying to put legal barriers in the way of people with male anatomy or male chromosomes getting into female spaces makes some women feel safer even if it isn’t doing one darned thing in practice to make them safer. I get that fears of things that don’t in practice actually increase your danger level are still fears and still horrible and still real and important emotions. I feel deep sympathy for any woman or girl who’s frightened by the thought of a person with a penis possibly being in a public toilet next to the one she’s in. I hope that anyone who does feel that way has help and support to deal with her fears, and if you have any ideas that might help you or other people affected by this fear feel safer without harming or risking another group of people, I would love to hear about them and see them implemented.

But ‘keep gender confirmation certificates difficult to obtain’ isn’t such an answer. The reason people are campaigning to make GRCs easier to obtain is because the current process is horrendous. (See also this article which I linked to above.) So, when you advocate keeping GRCs difficult to obtain, you are in fact supporting a system that causes massive problems for transgender people without having any actual benefit.

It’s even worse than that, though. In the USA, this myth about trans rights increasing the risk of sexual abuse is one that is being deliberately and actively weaponised by powerful hate groups with anti-trans ideologies. Warning here for descriptions of very serious assaults at some of the following links… because this climate of whipped-up fears drastically increases the risk of assault on trans people generally, and it also increases the risk of public bathroom use for any woman who can potentially be mistaken for a man, whether this is because she actually is trans, because she’s gender non-conforming, or because she just happens to look androgynous. Trans people have to live in fear of something as simple and everyday as using public bathrooms, because for them it is actually dangerous to do so.

I don’t think the UK is as bad from that point of view – we don’t have the Religious Right to the same degree as they have on that side of the Atlantic – but trans people here still suffer transphobia and anti-trans bigotry and even violent assaults, and the fears you’ve described here are a big part of what drives this. I believe you completely when you say that this is not what you want, that you want everyone including trans people to be safe and protected and free from harm. But good intentions don’t mitigate the effects of supporting harmful policies; the policy you’ve just supported above (not to mention the transphobic activists whose pages you read) are, in practice, contributing to the climate that causes these assaults.

So, when I disagree with you, when I stand up against the beliefs you’re supporting, it is not because I dismiss your fears. It is not because I don’t sympathise or want to help. It is because your fears and my sympathy should not be used to support actions that, while doing nothing to change the risk of the abuse you fear, will increase the abuse risk for transgender people and the level of other problems they face. It’s not OK for them to be the collateral damage of your attempts to ease your fears.

J. K. Rowling, if you do ever read this, thank you for all the joy your books have given to me and to my daughter over the years.

Be well,

Sarah

 

(I will hereby stress once again that all comments – from whichever side of the issue – should be polite and respectful. Yes, this means you. Think of how you would wish someone to talk about an issue that’s extremely sensitive to you, and use that same level of respect. Thank you.)

Comments

  1. Katydid says

    Rowling’s words disappoint me greatly. I read the Harry Potter novels to my children who were just the right age for them as they came out, and we saw all the movies as a family. Was it the best series ever? No, but it beat a lot of what was out there in the 1990s (mostly Christian glurge or commercialized cartoons drawn in that really ugly style so popular in the 1990s). We had some enjoyable family time around the Harry Potter series, including laughing at the hystical pitch of the screams of the fundagelicals who insisted the spells in the books were real and that Harry Potter was leading children into Satanism.

    Now, reading about Rowling just appalls me. I wonder if she’s aware that human beings can care about more than one thing at a time? For example, it is possible to want to put a stop to LGBT discrimination *and* to care about the plight of abused women and girls.

    As for the bathroom terror; I simply don’t understand why that’s such an issue for people–particularly for people from the UK and Europe, which tend to have bathroom stalls with floor-to-ceiling walls and cubicles, where the only time you’ll encounter another person is when washing your hands. I have been in bar bathrooms with identifying-as-masculine people and identfying-as-feminine people shared the sinks…and nothing nefarious was going on.

  2. Katydid says

    Ooops, should have edited before I sent, should read: “…identifying-as-feminine people SHARING the sinks…”

  3. says

    Bathroom terror: It’s just recycled homophobia. In Oklahoma, a man won a Senate race by claiming that gangs of lesbians were terrorizing women in school bathrooms. Now the homophobes have fallen back to attacking trans people. It was harmful nonsense then, and harmful nonsense now.

  4. Katydid says

    @William Brinkman: Mike Huckabee went into stupid-overdrive insisting that if transgender people were allowed to use the bathroom that made them the most comfortable, then people like him (yes, he actually said this!) would pretend to be women so they could spy on women in the bathrooms (http://jaapl.org/content/46/2/232). I think the bathroom fear is not homophobia, but of imaginary people pretending to be women only when it was time to use the bathroom to satisfy their prurient interests, then switching back to being men. Every time I read this, I always ask myself is this is really a huge problem? And if so, it would be obviously very quickly that Male X would suddenly declare to be Female X *only* during bathroom breaks.

  5. StevoR says

    WARNING : There’s swearing in this link and its on a whole other area outside of her transphobia where JK Rowling has shown enormous lack of empathy and research and disrespect for the lives and cultures of others but I think this old thread – the post and many of the comments below it – by the late Caine is well worth reading too here :

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/affinity/2016/09/25/j-k-rowling-the-colonial-heart-of-an-indifferent-bigot/

    Its from quite a few years ago but I do think it raises some key points about her mindset and refusal to be considerate and listen.

    Apologies and feel free to delete or edit this if its not okay with you Dr Sarah.

  6. Katydid says

    Wait! I just remembered this scene! In one of the early books, Harry and Ron follow Hermione into the girls’ bathroom to work a transformation spell. Then they meet a troll and defeat it, but in the aftermath, several of the adult wizards (including Dumbledore and Snape, and possibly the caretaker Argus Filch) rush into the girls’ bathroom. AND NOBODY SUFFERED.

    Again, I’m appalled by JK Rowling and disappointed that a fun little series of stories about wizards is now being ruined by constant intrusions of the author’s ugliness.

  7. Katydid says

    Also, I am a woman who at times has resorted to using the men’s restroom in restaurants and at work and once in a stadium where there was absolutely nobody in the men’s room but both stalls in the ladies’ room were busy and the line to use them was out the door. It’s particularly soul-crushing to be 9 months pregnant and really, REALLY have to visit a bathroom…and see you’ve got a 10-minute wait ahead for the 2-stall ladies’ room…then walk into the men’s room and there’s 5 stalls (plus 4 – 5 urinals).

    I’m not a monster–I’ve always asked a man to check that the men’s room is empty before I went in.

  8. StevoR says

    @9. katydid : OMG yes! That’s in the first book – The Philosophers / Sorcerers Stone

    But it gets better .. ? Do you remember “Moaning Myrtle” the ghost / murdered child in the girls bathroom who became a ghost when she was killed by the Basilisk in the second Chamber of Secrets book? :

    https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Myrtle_Warren

    Well, if memory serves – and pretty sure it does now you’vé jogged it – Harry and Ron and Hermione all used the Gryfinndior girls bathroom to access that mysterious chamber through Harry Potter speaking parsceltongue (snake) and so .. there were boys in the girls bathrooms Oh noezx!!!1ty! in JK Rowling’s original and it was essential (ish?) to the plot!

    Moreover, pretty sure Myrtle offered to share her toilet cubicle with Harry if he died* when he opened it and went down to save Ginny who’d taken the book that opened the chamber of secrets. Which, uh, Fawkes the (male I think FWIW?) Phoenix flew down / turned up in later too..

    Oh and one final detail which I cannot corroborate not having a copy of the book available now but I’m pretty sure when Myrtle died the last thing she was going to do was tell a boy she heard speaking in the girl’s bathroom – in Paseltongue (snake) – to “go away!” because he was a boy so .. yeah. Wow. The moral of the story there if there is one .. ?!

    Incidentally, pretty sure in a later book /movies (one of the last few?) Harry Potter and crew find adult wizards and witches flushing themselves into work at the Ministry of Magic so using toilets as travel devices seems a ..thing in the Potterverse FWIW.

    * This being the Potterverse it would not surprise me if there was a slash / fanfiction shipping Harry and Myrtle in an alt history here where that happens? Maybe?

  9. StevoR says

    ^ Dangnabbit forgot to add a : SPOILERS WARNING for those last uh, three posts or so I guess? Sorry.

    Kinda not really that sorry .. given the age and fame of the books now & the author’s subsequent reveals.

  10. Katydid says

    @StevoR: the books are 20 years old at this point, so no spoiler alert needed. Also, not sure about your country, but the movies are played in the USA fairly frequently on one of the cable tv channels.

    Thanks for calling up all the specific memories; I remember taking the kids to the movies when they were little, and we read the books aloud at night, but I’d forgotten every single example of bathrooms in the Potterverse. Obviously the JK Rowling of 20 years ago had no problems with people and bathrooms because the men are always invading the women’s room. There’s also a scene in Goblet of Fire where Moaning Myrtle visits Harry in the bath to impart an important clue about a metal egg he’s holding (put it under the water and the message it contains can be heard). I think that’s the only time a woman invades a men’s room–it seems to be always the other way.

  11. anat says

    Katydid, also in book 6 when Harry assaults (and nearly kills) Draco in a bathroom it is Myrtle who shows up, discovers the crime, and calls for help.

  12. Katydid says

    @anat, yes, thank you; I had forgotten about that scene.

    Huh, the author certainly seemed fixated on bathrooms.

  13. StevoR says

    @ 14. Katydid :

    Also, not sure about your country, but the movies are played in the USA fairly frequently on one of the cable tv channels.

    FWIW, Australia and, by weird co-incidence, they actually had the ‘Chamber of Secrets on a night or three ago here and not for the first or fifth time either so yes. On free to air telly even.

    Obviously the JK Rowling of 20 years ago had no problems with people and bathrooms because the men are always invading the women’s room.

    Authors and peopel do change and sadly that change is both directions. Embarrassed to admit it now but,was atiem ithought Orson Scott Card wa sactually a really queer friendly author for some of his characters and, yes, that probly says something about me but also, I think about him too. (Whoah, did Card ever get rotten and stinky toxic there fast.) Time changes people and their views (me included) and sometimes you really wish for a TARDIS that could go back and switch tracks and directions and could Rowling or Card or .. (Insert author of choice once thought based on writing X to be so good but tuned so douche bigot bad) have gone such a better way if they’d rethought and not said / done X at point Y.

    Sigh.

    I do think there’s hope in the fandom, the people whose internal mind’s eyes have seen far beyond what the original authors may have and sparked more than the author may have wished. There’s a lot of fuzzy unclear boundaries here ithink in the ‘verses that authors make and what people then do and imagine and re-imagine and recreate and re-interpret from them. I think and hope the Potterverse moves beyond Rowling. Because I liked those books and that ‘verse too.

    But I can also understand why folks wouldn’t now and see its flaws as well. So ..yes.

  14. StevoR says

    Incidentally tangentially who would have won outta Rey vs Luke Skywalker / Palpatine or Kylo vs Anakin / Vader and which time of when of which?

    Meanwhile, world burns and turns still remaisn worth fighting for because if we don’t & give it up to douches then what?

  15. Katydid says

    @StevoR: Okay, I have to admit, the Star Wars universe lost me. When the first movie came out, I was in a pre-teen and it was the 1970s and it never occurred to me to wonder that the whiny man-baby farmboy got to be the hero while his twin sister was active in the Resistance, got captured, survived torture, and rescued herself…but was the minor character, the love interest. The movies were fun.

    When the next set came out, I had babies at home and was quite frankly disappointed that I had to pay a babysitter to sit through…more whiny man-baby action in the form of Anakin Skywalker. And Natalie Portman, who I can’t stand as an actress. And future-NASCAR racing, which doesn’t interest me at all. Greg Proops was the best part of the movie, as the two-headed announcer.

    Then the conclusion, and what do we have? More whiny man-babies (Kylo Ren). I really loved The Force Awakens, but that had a (gasp!) FEEEEEMALE protagonist in it, so the real-life man-babies lost their ever-lovin’ minds hating it.

    Disney got hold of the franchise and I never even bothered seeing the last installment.

  16. StevoR says

    @ ^ Katydid : Fair enough. I can certainly see where youare coming from there. I grew up with the Star Wars movies as a kid and so am definitley biased here and very good point about Leia. FWIW, The Last Jedi was quite different from the others and did slam the sexism and have a different more feminist take on that ‘verse which upset a lot of the online man-babies. I thought it was pretty good altho’ it did have a lot of plot holes in it too.

    ***

    @ Dr Sarah : Noticed that you haven’t posted anything here for quite a while now. Hope you are okay and just busy. Looking forward to reading more from you but I understand if life has gotten in the way as it does.

  17. StevoR says

    PS. The ‘Last Jedi’ was the middle move of the sequel trilogy centred on Rey’s character NOT the last one which was a real sloppy mess. I guess this is not the thread for dissecting these but, yeah, thought that last ‘Rise of Skywalker’ movie was a very confused, very poorly thought out kludge that tried to go reverse what the TLJ did and shift the story & franchise disappointingly backwards. FWIW. Solo the most recent spin-off was fun and better but like most of the Star Wars movies a case of enjoy the fun visual spectacle ride and don’t think too much about the sense or lack thereof being made.

  18. Katydid says

    @ Dr. Sarah; I also hope all is well with you! Hoping you’re just busy and not ill or overwhelmed caring for those who are ill.

    @StevoR: I was completely and utterly blown away by Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Those and Indiana Jones were popcorn movies, full of wonder and fun and swashbuckling. But they did have their blind spots (particularly the treatment of women), which I understood in a minor, nagging way as a child and more fully as an adult. I saw Solo when it came to cable tv; I was glad I hadn’t spent money on it, but it wasn’t horrible like the second and third of the last trilogy. I’d love to see more of Chewbacca’s story, I imagine it would be fascinating.

    Here’s a thought: the second and last trilogies felt a lot like the superhero movies that have been done to death for the past decade. Your thoughts?

  19. StevoR says

    @ ^ Katydid : Agreed.

    Star Wars have always been movies where, well, you enjoy the view, the visual, musical and emotional spectacles and ride and don’t try to think too hard about them if you know what I mean? Not quite turn your brain off entirely but dial it into something closer to dream mode and make allowances esp in suspension of disbelief** for its very specific genre. Fun but not that deep. Though people can, do and will read a lot more into them. That’s where I think The Last Jedi was so good because it at least in the Luke Skywalker -Rey – Kylo Ren sub-plot & parts of the Poe Dameron Vs Amilyn Holdo* sub-plot it subverted and surprised so much and in the abandoning of the “magic parents = magic talent” bloodlines bit of Rey’s story and made people think even if not really that original at least for this specific verse new. I think that differnt take and more thoughtful twist wa s also what mad eit so ..uncomfortable .. to some of the fans which caused some of the backlash against it which wa salso driven by outright malice, misogyny and an admitted hateful trolling campaign by anti-feminists.

    I think the second movei of the sequel trilogy (TLJ) was one of the most different and best SW movies although I’m also not blind to its plot holes and faults which certianly aren’t unique to it.

    Chewbacca’s story would be greta tosee and his POV explored a lot more too agreeed 100% although I’d also say they’ve really milked the franchise so much lately that .. yeah. Like superhero movies which in a sense is what they are really. Certainly much more fantasy than science in their fiction & mythology. I am biased having beibng hooked on them (the original trilogy) as a kid.

    * Yeah. Amilyn was Admiral Holdo’s first name even though I don’t recall it being mentioned in plot :

    https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Amilyn_Holdo

    ** Which is where the final ‘Rise of Skywalker’ movie lost me in teh end because I can do a certain amount of suspension of disbelief and dialling down on the brain in granting poetic licence but it does have limits and that went megaparsecs beyond them even for Star Wars where I’m very inclined to go with the flow of it.

  20. Dr Sarah says

    Hello! Yes, I’m still here and still well and sorry if I worried anyone by my absence; definitely appreciate the good wishes. All’s OK here (in the extremely relative sense in which we all have to use the word these days; I mean there’s been no specific problem keeping me away from the keyboard).

    I have this whole thing about getting locked up with responding to comments; I get several comments and get behind on responses and then start thinking that I can’t respond to any of them if I can’t respond to all of them, otherwise it’s favouritism, and then worrying about what to say in response to comments… I really need to get over that. Anyway, I’m here. Replying now:

    @Katydid, 8 etc: Bloody hell, you’re right. I can’t believe I never even thought about the irony there. Yeah, technically it doesn’t relate to her views (she’s talking about boys going into girls’ bathrooms in situations that are a) genuinely urgent and b) such that they can reasonably expect no-one will be using them), but it definitely strikes me as ironic.

    @StevoR, 7: That’s a really good point, and I’m leaving that link there. I don’t particularly want this to veer off into a ‘let’s talk about everything Rowling ever did wrong’ discussion… but you nailed the issue when you say it raises key points about her mindset and refusal to listen. I think this is something that some people are losing track of in all this argument about Rowling voicing her views on transgender issues; it is not just about what she’s saying on this issue, or even how she’s saying it (which has often left quite a bit to be desired). We also have this background context of her saying or writing things that really hurt other people, and then refusing to listen or change anything.

    It’s sad. I know that, in her own mind (and in the mind of many others, for that matter), she has good reasons for everything she says and believes… but that doesn’t absolve her of her persistent refusal to listen to those who disagree with her with the same empathy and understanding that she wishes for herself.

    @friedfish2718: I had to delete your comment due to your choice to disregard the clear policy about keeping comments polite and respectful. I realise you had a couple of actual points in there, which I would be happy to answer if you want to try reposting them in accordance with the comment policy. I did pass your comment on the post before this one, though just barely; you’re still on moderation. I’ll write a reply to that one when I get a chance.

    Stay safe, all, and I’ll try to keep responding to comments more often!

  21. StevoR says

    @ ^ Dr Sarah : Good to know you’re okay and blogging again and no worries re :comment responses. Its quite understandable if as a Doctor especially now you have higher priorities and insufficent time and that’s okay but admit with the Covid pandemic and its hitting hospital staff badly inso many places I was getting a bit worried. 🙂

  22. lanir says

    I’m sorry this got rather long.

    I have lived with fear for much of my life. I grew up with abusive parents. One parent suffered from undiagnosed PTSD for decades and used me as their safety valve. Whenever they needed to blow off steam, they would find something I’d done wrong and let it all out. Most of this was not physical but the threat that it could be at the drop of a hat was ever present. The other parent was neglectful. They just felt it was easier for them if they ignored our problems so they did. School wasn’t an escape because the social groups there were very small and I was an outcast.

    So while I haven’t lived through the things J. K. Rowling and many other men and women have, I understand something about fear and how to deal with it. Part of it is understanding that your reactions to fear can be wrong. It’s not wrong to feel it. But feelings aren’t always the best reasons to use when making choices.

    To explain, I’ll use an analogy from my life. Growing up the way I did, I’m sort of skittish around people I don’t know and I’m lousy at meeting people or dealing with groups. I still struggle with this simple thing many other people can do as easy as breathing. Where I grew up most people belonged to one of two different racial groups. Some of the people I knew had absorbed racist attitudes so I was exposed to that. It was easy to be afraid of people in the other racial group. Some things about them felt rather offputting. But my fear was my own. Nothing about my fear had anything to do with them, really. It didn’t change who they were. They weren’t better or worse people because of it. Eventually I got over it and made some friends who didn’t look like me. I feel like that was mostly because they weren’t at the core of what I was afraid of. If they had been, I believe I’d still be struggling with it.

    I may still be afraid but other people don’t need to be held accountable to my fears. I don’t expect the whole world to change because I’m a mess when I meet new people. For a good portion of the last century there were racially segregated bathrooms, schools, etc. in the US. If I stayed afraid of people who didn’t look like me wouldn’t it be easy to say that segregation was right? That separating people based on who they are was the way to go?

    When it’s about race the answer is obvious. You can just look around and see what kind of trouble ideas like that cause. When we talk about trans people it’s the same as race – we’re talking about a quality that people have. I know that fear binds you in ways that someone who is not afraid will never fully understand. But that doesn’t give you or me or anyone the right to bind other people to our fears. They cannot be held accountable for how we feel. Even if you have lots of other people telling you they should be. I’m sorry if you feel badly about this but segregating people off based on who they are will not help you.

    If we start making other people accountable for how we feel I think it will be a very slippery slope. I don’t think it will protect women in any way. I think it will have the opposite effect, actually. It will weaken the argument that women are not responsible for how men think of them. We’re still fighting that culture war and we’re winning. But we’re doing it by not clipping anyone’s wings. By raising our rights and the rights of others. The only way to really win is to stick together. Separating out into little camps fighting only for the rights of their members will not help us. It will allow those who want to keep things the same or even regress to defeat us in small groups. We can’t afford that. Whoever you are reading this, you can’t afford it either.

    If you started out afraid, I’m sure nothing I’ve said has made you feel less afraid. It’s hard to make that happen without meaningful change. And that’s where we come to the other reaction to fear. If we work together to make sure everyone has the right to live normally without being attacked, we make allies. And we make it harder for anyone to make excuses if we’re attacked. Like J. K. Rowling’s trans friend they become people you know and people who know you. Or someone similar to you. I think it’s uncomfortable for all of us to admit we can’t change the world so that no one is attacked. But we can make it more risky to do, harder to pull off, more difficult to justify afterwards. I don’t think giving in to our fears does any of those things. Let’s try to be strong together instead.

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