Update: in view of my recent shift towards a more sympathetic and supportive position with Gender-Critical feminism, this blog post might seem incongruous. It does represent my distress at the way the media portrayed the JK Rowling furore at the time. However, since that time, and in further studying the statements and positions of JK Rowling and Maya Forstater, I do also now hold a more sympathetic position towards both of them, as will be evident in my blog post on Gender-Critical feminism (11 October 2020). What this shift in position reflects is how I got sucked into the idea of a battle to the death against Gender-Critical feminism. The transformation of my position demonstrates that this kind of perspective can change to something more positive and conciliatory, and for this reason, I will keep this blog post up.
On 11 June, The Scotsman published a deeply hostile article against transgender rights and activism in an opinion piece about the JK Rowling furore by its deputy political editor Gina Davidson. After much distress, I wrote a counter article which The Scotsman quietly ignored, after they had offered to pass it on to their Comment Editor. I experienced a similar series of events with The National, which published a similarly deeply hostile opinion-piece article about the JK Rowling furore filled with dog whistles against trans women, but which since has responded to my tailored counter article and offer to write an adapted article, with silence. This is the pattern I have experienced: the mainstream press will only publish articles that present trans women as a threat to cis women, and trans activism as abusive and irrational.
As a record of my experience with the Scottish media, here is my article to The Scotsman:
Thursday 11 June 2020
Why abuse of JK Rowling is a problem for trans rights activists – Gina Davidson
JK Rowling is right that it is not hateful towards trans people to say that her life has been shaped by being female, says Gina Davidson
A response, by Gina Gwenffrewi
(Currently completing a PhD in Transgender Representations at the University of Edinburgh)
Amid the media furore two weeks ago surrounding an essay by JK Rowling that portrayed trans rights in opposition to the rights of natal women, it was galling to read Gina Davidson's opinion piece in The Scotsman that supported Rowling's position in so one-sided an account. Davidson's article starts, for example, by claiming that Rowling's only crime is 'to say that her life has been shaped by being female.' To be clear, Rowling's three-thousand-plus words, with its five main points and additional assertions, is far more complex and problematic. The world-famous novelist, for example, maintains in her essay her support for Maya Forstater, who lost her job after demanding the right to misgender trans people in the workplace. Such a right, the court rightly concluded in Forstater's legal defeat, would have set a precedent for making the work place 'an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment' for trans people. Davidson's article omits to mention this distressing position maintained in Rowling's essay. More broadly, Rowling also claims a 'new trans activism' is 'pushing to erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender.' Yet this assertion is left unsubstantiated by Rowling, and fails to acknowledge how trans-inclusive legislation maintains the continued safeguards protecting women-only spaces such as prisons and refuges for victims of domestic-abuse – often the locations cited where trans rights are meant to infringe on the rights of natal women.
In its lack of reference to any scholarly research that details the actual benign implications of trans rights, and by its omission of some of the more controversial claims expressed by Rowling, Davidson's article has the unfortunate effect of contributing to the delegitimizing of trans people. This is consolidated by Davidson's tarring trans people with culpability for the more egregious examples online abuse suffered by Rowling. This conflation is then used to suggest rescinding trans rights that have peacefully been enjoyed by trans people for several decades. At one point, Davidson asks, 'Why would any woman agree to share private spaces such as changing rooms or toilets with the same people abusing Rowling?' Given the global phenomena of online trolling and abuse that characterizes so much social media, and which certainly includes the harassment of trans people as well as Rowling, Davidson's suggestion – however unrealistic it would be to police – of prohibiting trans women's access to women-only facilities such as public toilets, appears both excessive and unfair. Would Davidson argue it reasonable to remove the rights of other minorities, as a response to online abuse carried out by anonymous perpetrators in their name?
Distressingly, the skewed representation by Davidson conforms to a familiar and historic, dog-whistle association of trans women with violence and misogyny. Such associations characterize, for example, the delegitimizing strategies by anti-transgender scholars such Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys over several decades. The innuendo on Davidson's part is especially evident in her reference to the Gender Recognition Act, whose equivalence has been peacefully established in several countries, from Argentina to the Republic of Ireland. Davidson claims in relation to it 'a veiled seal of approval to out-and-out misogyny; a nod and wink to the men who've never liked the idea of equality in the first place, to let loose with their abuse; men from both the right and the left of politics.'
Who are these misogynists and men from both right and left of politics whom Davidson infers as supporting such trans-inclusive legislation? A veritable roll-call of influential, commentators hostile to various trans rights and activism across the political spectrum in fact suggests the opposite, including Slavoj Žižek, Nick Cohen, Rod Liddle, Jordan Peterson, Jeremy Clarkson, Jonathan Ross, Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopoulos, Douglas Murray and Graham Linehan, the latter recently having had his twitter account suspended for his online harassment of transgender people. Such specific abuse, and the broader attacks by high-profile male journalists against trans rights and/or trans identity, unfortunately, appears not to fit the narrative.
What is most distressing about Davidson's article is its presentation of a threatening trans activism at a time when trans rights are being challenged or removed in Europe and the U.S.A. The Trump/Pence administration has attempted several legislations to remove trans rights since coming into office, while in Hungary, trans identity has effectively been prohibited since May 2020. The kind of trans-exclusionary access rights suggested by Davidson are also currently being discussed publicly by Liz Truss of the UK government. The pattern, overwhelmingly, is of a marginalized minority whose rights in several countries led by populist administrations are in retreat. To see The Scotsman encourage this development in Scotland is, for trans people at least, deeply troubling.