Offense is the ‘Price of Free Speech’: Thoughts on J.K. Rowling’s ‘Reasons for Speaking Out on Sex and Gender Issues’

TW: transphobia and implication of assault.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Hysteria Collective as a whole.

Well, this is unfortunate. In June, Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, wrote an essay riddled with misinformation, and the piece got itself a nomination for the BBC’s annual Russell Prize.

‘Reasons for Speaking Out on Sex and Gender Issues’, first published in June, made bold and hurtful statements about the differences between women and trans women. In the piece, she states that the rise of ‘trans-activism’ diminishes the plight of other women, whom she refers to as ‘natal’ girls. The essay refuses to accept trans women as women, and refers to them as a man ‘who believes or feels he’s a woman’. The essay was obviously met with backlash in multiple online circles, but alarmingly, although unsurprisingly, was met with support from trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) or other trans-exclusionary queer groups such as the LGB Alliance.

One of the problems with her anti-trans discourse is that it is so heavily shrouded by the guise that it is ‘for the protection of others’, namely cis-women. This is why it is so well-received by some; people who are easily taken in by misinformation are all too often easy to convince that those who are trying to live their lives i.e. trans women going to the bathroom, are doing so for some predatory purpose.

Soon after, in September, she announced a new thriller Troubled Blood under the name Robert Galbraith, which includes a serial killer who dresses in “women’s clothes”, which again was touted by many as another string to her transphobic bow.

The BBC has said little on the matter, except that “(having taken) offense is the ‘price of free speech'”. What’s disappointing is that the Russell Prize is an award which “celebrates journalism and writing that honors [sic] the intellectual and moral virtues Russell’s prose exemplified.” The ‘self-identified convenor, founder, chair and president’ of the prize, Amol Rajan, makes a point to reiterate, as he has done since the prize’s inception, that he is impartial, and doesn’t endorse arguments laid out in the pieces nominated. I understand this from an intellectual aspect; however, if its writing is being celebrated for moral virtue, surely this essay shouldn’t have made the cut?

I can’t help but wonder whether it was a move Rajan made because he knew it would be divisive and would get people talking if he did it. I can’t think of any other reason because, honestly, I’ve read the piece (all 3,691 words of it) and transphobia and factual inaccuracies aside, it’s really not that great.

Image courtesy of Nate Isaac.

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