JK Rowling goes full TERF, laments a woman losing her job for transphobia

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Years ago, I was really confused by the whole “TERF” thing. It’s an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. A TERF is basically a cisgender woman who does not advocate for the rights of transgender women. Many TERFs even actively work against the interests of trans women. This is just background information, as is this: there was a case in Britain involving a cisgendered, transphobic woman named Maya Forstater. Whew. From the Guardian:

A researcher who lost her job at a thinktank after tweeting that transgender women cannot change their biological sex has lost a test case because her opinions were deemed to be “absolutist”. In a keenly anticipated judgment that will stir up fresh debate over transgender issues, Judge James Tayler, an employment judge, ruled that Maya Forstater’s views did “not have the protected characteristic of philosophical belief”.

Forstater, 45, a tax expert, was a visiting fellow at the Centre for Global Development (CGD), an international thinktank that campaigns against poverty and inequality. Her contract at the charitable organisation, which is based in Washington and London, was not renewed in March after a dispute over publicising her views on social media. She was accused of using “offensive and exclusionary” language in tweets opposing government proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act to allow people to self-identify as the opposite sex.

The Central London employment tribunal convened a preliminary hearing over the issue of whether her tweets, such as “men cannot change into women”, should be protected under the 2010 Equality Act. She funded her legal challenge through the CrowdJustice website.

Forstater has been supported by Index on Censorship. Its chief executive, Jodie Ginsberg, has said previously: “From what I have read of [Forstater’s] writing, I cannot see that Maya has done anything wrong other than express an opinion that many feminists share – that there should be a public and open debate about the distinction between sex and gender.”

But in a 26-page judgment released late on Wednesday, Tayler dismissed her claim. “I conclude from … the totality of the evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

[From The Guardian]

That’s a lot to unpack and I refuse to unpack it. Transgender women are women. We can have a good-faith debate about the language around transgender issues, but THIS is not THAT.

So that was the backstory. Here’s why JK Rowling and “TERF” are currently trending on Twitter:

So there you go. JK Rowling is a TERF. From what I understand of the case, Maya was fired for being transphobic in life and online. Hers was not a good-faith linguistic debate, it was bigotry and transphobia. And here’s JK Rowling, taking Maya’s side. I hate to say it Potterheads, but your fave continues to be problematic.

J K Rowling at arrivals for 51st Annual...

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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69 Responses to “JK Rowling goes full TERF, laments a woman losing her job for transphobia”

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  1. Erinn says:

    What? You mean JK Rowling is spouting off stupid crap? How unlike her! This is SO out of character. It’s not like she supports abusers or anything like that, so this is such a surprise!

    Honest to god, for all the goodwill that this woman built with Harry Potter it’s like she can’t burn bridges fast enough.

  2. JW says:

    JKR is not a TERF. Trans exclusionary, yes. But there is nothing radical feminist about her. She may self-identify as a feminist, but her actions, including with respect to Depp, prove otherwise. Try Trans Exclusionary Pseudo-Feminist.

    • Noodle says:

      I studied Russian and can mix my consonants like a madwoman, but the PF in TEPF is giving me fits. My dog thinks I’m hissing at him.

      • JW says:

        How about Trans Exclusionary Faux Feminist? TEFF scans a lot better, even if it’s somewhat unfair to a very versatile grain.

    • WendyWoo says:

      Nobody rational thinks any TERF is a real radical or feminist. It’s a very sarcastic term.

      • JW says:

        There are very definitely schools of thought within feminism that are considered radical feminism, and portions of radical feminism that are trans exclusionary. It’s rancid, but it’s there, and to pretend that it’s not present in feminism is to absolve feminists of responsibility to confront it and reject it. But thanks for the incorrect info.

      • Megan says:

        I know feminists who believe trans women are part of the LGBTQ movement and not the women’s movement. I see it as an intersectional issue and both should amplify the voices of trans women, especial those of color.

      • Selena says:

        They are often seperatists too. Hence the reaction to trans people. So yes they are feminists and they are very frequently radical feminists (separatists, against sex work, anti-capitalist etc). There are a lot of different types of feminism it is an umbrella term like christian for someone that believes in jesus as the son of god. Radical feminists are akin to fundamentalist christians. Sorry if you already know all this, I don’t want to “teach my grandmother to suck eggs”, but some people haven’t had time or inclination to read feminist philosophy.

    • ooshpick says:

      woot!

    • Ange says:

      How about we call her a FART, a feminism appropriating reactionary transphobe.

  3. Maria says:

    “Molly…you in danger, girl.”

  4. Valiantly Varnished says:

    I called it a long time ago and I will say it again: JK revealed who she was when she went to bat for Johnny Depp and PUBLICLY called Amber Heard a liar. As Maya Angelou famously said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” JK BEEN garbage.

  5. Lara K says:

    Serious question, so please bear with me.

    Should what we say online on our personal account be grounds for dismissal? I’m not asking whether what this woman said is right (it’s not), but rather where the line is? Or is there no line?

    For example, if I express an opinion that evangelists are evil because of their political activities, should an evangelist be in a position to push for me to lose my job for religious discrimination?

    Part of me says yes, because once I start to generalize about a group of people, then it will leak into my work and have real world impact, but I’m not totally comfortable with that…. THoughts?

    • lily says:

      generalising and discriminating against a group of people does have real world impact. and i think it is important for employers to know who they are hiring or have already hired and for other people you are around to feel safe.

    • Rando says:

      I think the deciding factor here is the nature of the woman’s job. She’s supposed to be working for an organization that campaigns against inequality and instead is actively engaging in hate speech targeting a persecuted minority. It’s not like she’s an engineer or saleswoman (or author) and posting this crap. She’s literally going against the job she signed up for and is collecting a wage for. They had every right to fire her.

    • Megan says:

      She wasn’t fired. She was a contractor whose contract was not renewed. There is a significant difference between the two. Assuming contracts work in the UK like they do in the US, no one is owed a renewal. Also, the organization doesn’t need a reason for why they elected not to renew her contract,

      • tealily says:

        Eh, this is a whole other issue regarding labor rights. In so many instances the “contractor” is actually functioning as a regular employee, but calling it a “contract position” is a way for the employer to avoid offering benefits, terminate at will, etc. I’m not defending her here, but I think it’s a little unhealthy to play up the “significant difference” between the two and the lack of any responsibility on the employers part to contract employees, regardless of the context. But you’re right, legally they owe her nothing.

    • Mo says:

      This is addressed downstairs, but in case you are only reading your own replies, it wasn’t just the tweet. She also said that she wouldn’t use a person’s pronouns. That’s a serious work issue. Also, it’s a think tank, so your personal beliefs are literally what you are hired for. And she’s a contractor.

  6. Rdoug says:

    No, she lost her job for harassing transgendered people. She refused to address people by their proper pronouns and that is bigoted and ignorant, never mind that she was also against new laws to protect Transgendered people. Just like you can’t be racist, in most places, and expect to keep your job, you can’t be transphobic either.

    • lucy2 says:

      This.
      “it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” That says it all to me.

  7. Lara K says:

    Second serious question.
    What is the argument that TERF’s are trying to push?

    When I first heard the TERF thing, I wasn’t entirely sure what the problem was. Trans rights are a fairly new hot topic so it’s normal for discourse to occur over definitions and and all that. Fine.

    But am I understanding correctly that the big TERF line now is that men will just pretend to be women to get all the protections set aside under the law for women? Like what is the argument there?

    I mean, sure a trans woman may not have a 100% overlap with cis women on 100% of issues, but so what? So you have a few women who don’t have a vested interest in fighting ovarian cancer. Is that really an argument that works in today’s society? Or are they trying to push something different?

    • Claire says:

      I think it has to do with cis women feeling erased and trans women growing up with the benefits of the patriarchy. If you really want to understand their perspective, go to their sites. I always try to understand different groups perspectives through their own words as much as safely possible. I am not a terf and will not argue their perspective, just trying to answer your question.

      • Rapunzel says:

        The getting the benefits of the patriarchy argument is ridiculous though. One, trangender women are generally victims of patriarchal structures. They are quite vulnetable. Two, there are numerous CIS women who benefit from the patriarchy. Not in the same way as CIS men, of course, but patriarchal privilege isn’t exclusively given to men. It’s tied to things like class and race as well… the patriarchy is a wide, complex system of behaviors that keep men, especially white men, in power. Excluding trans women and insisting that gender equals sex and is thus fixed rather fluid only serves the patriarchy. Hence, I agree with the poster who said TERFs are really just TEs. Or, TEAs… transexclusionary assholes.

      • MD says:

        “TERFs” do not hold that biological sex and gender are the same thing, but rather that gender is a social and cultural construct. They do not believe that gender is innate.

      • Rapunzel says:

        MD- if they didn’t hold that gender is innate, then they wouldn’t exclude transgender people. Preaching gender fluidity while insisting that certain women shouldn’t compete with other women due to their biological makeup is hypocritical. As much as these people might say they believe in gender fluidity, it’s just lip service. Their treatment of transgender people, transgender women in particular, shows what they really think: that transgender women aren’t equal due to biology, which makes them not “real” women.

      • MD says:

        Gender and sex are not the same thing. Radical feminists absolutely do not believe that gender is innate. If gender were innate, then women would do more housework than men because it’s programmed into their genes. Girls would like pink because it’s genetic. Boys would play with trucks because it’s in their DNA. All of which are ridiculous from a feminist perspective. Gender is the social and cultural construct that interprets biological sex differences. The difference between third-wave and radical feminism on biological sex vs. gender is that third-wave feminists consider sex to be socially constructed and “gender” to be innate, while radical feminists consider it to be just the opposite. You can disagree with either position but it is important to understand the terms of the debate.

      • Rapunzel says:

        MD- you are right that Radical feminist claim sex= innate and gender= construct, vs. Third wave feminists who think the opposite. I’m not saying Radical feminists don’t claim to believe that. I’m saying that TERFs give lip service to the concept but their actions show otherwise.
        Ex- saying that a trans woman shouldn’t participate with CIS women in athletic competition. That implies sex equals gender. Period. It’s against any belief that claims gender isn’t innate. If you truly believe gender is a construct, you don’t say things like transgender women are “pretending” to be women to compete with women. You don’t exclude transgender women from women centered events. They are women.

      • Megan says:

        The sports example is a red herring. And the innate/construct is stuff and nonsense. Either you believe self-determination is a human right or you don’t.

    • Rando says:

      One argument is around athletic competition.. is it fair for a transgender woman to compete against cis women?

      Imagine Caitlyn Jenner in the Olympics as a woman.

      I honestly don’t know the right answer.

      • Rapunzel says:

        The athletic thing rarely happens and no man is “pretending” to be a woman just to compete against them. It’s a bunk argument.

      • Anna says:

        The core belief of radical feminism is that sex is why you’re oppressed and gender is how you’re oppressed, and that gender is a hierarchy, not a binary. Even with all of the advances and gains made, women still hold very little actual power compared to men. I get the sense that what enrages people who hold this very hardline “absolutist view” (to quote from the court ruling) is that to treat cis women as if their privilege is something to be checked is to miss the bigger picture: it’s not TERFs who kill, rape, or assault trans people. It’s men. And yet, there’s no word like TERF for the men who perpetuate that violence – we’re here talking about the transphobia of this woman, and we say TERF this and TERF that, but TERFs, however vile you believe their speech to be, are not the ones with actual institutional power to oppress trans people.

        I value equality and the ideal that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. I also think that the female researcher in question is too extreme in her refusal to treat others with common courtesy.

        We really do need to address the fact that sex and gender are different, though. I see trans activism as a natural ally in the fight against sex based oppression. There’s a way to accommodate everyone. I really hate to see us fighting each other when in the big scheme of things, the patriarchy should be the focus of our attention.

      • MD says:

        Thank you, Anna.

      • Erinn says:

        I was asked about that recently. I think it needs to be looked at on a case per case basis, I guess. Someone who started transitioning very young wouldn’t have the same advantages that someone who transitioned later MIGHT have.

        It’s a lot of hypotheticals either way, though. And I think in a lot of people’s minds it’s just justification.

      • Rapunzel says:

        Anna- I agree that we need to address the problem of men, but it’s also important to remember that CIS gender privilege supports the patriarchy and TERFs are doing the patriarchy’s work by excluding transgender women.

      • Anna says:

        Rapunzel, in talking about trans oppression and cis privilege, we cannot lose sight of the fact that people of the female sex, regardless of how they present or what gender identity they hold, are not in a privileged position under patriarchy precisely because their biology can be used to control them. That’s the idea that I really think gets lost in these conversations about transphobia. The concept of cis privilege should be acknowledged but we can’t lose fight of the fact that women and girls all over the world may have cis privilege, but child brides, sex trafficking, female infanticide, maternal mortality, menstruation, reproduction, veiling – all the cis privilege in the world will not protect half female half of the population who is oppressed because of their biology. The oppression of trans people is, indeed, also caused by patriarchy, and trans people are obviously not the root of sex based oppression that female individuals face, just as cis women are not the ones who rape and murder trans women.

        Please note that I’m not belittling trans oppression. As I said, the way I see it is radical feminism and trans activism should be natural allies because whatever ideological divergence there may be, there is one important, prevailing goal in both: ending male violence against us.

        We cannot lose sight of that.

      • Gatorlover says:

        Yes, thanks Anna

      • Some chick says:

        @Anna: the words for those men are Rapist and Murderer. And Misogynist. Unfortunately, the TERFs support their hateful agenda.

        Depersonalizing is an aggression. Refusing to use the right pronouns is an aggressive and depersonalizing act. It’s not far from that to physical aggression. Since they’re not fully human…

        How would you like it if people insisted on calling you “Andrew” instead of Anna? Misgendering is very rude.

        This researcher is not better than the colleague she disrespected. She thinks she is. But she’s shown that to be untrue.

  8. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    God I’m so tired bring so tired. You young ladies out there, trust me, it never ends. I think all the sex, gender, identities and modifiers are sometimes overkill and too varied for total inclusion. Confusion tends to shut people down. But I come from a mindset that we’re all human, and it doesn’t matter who we love or how we love. Everyone deserves total access to society in all its fallible corners (healthcare, marriage, commerce, every f#cking thing which is available for f#cking people).

    As a muggle, who applauded the shutdown of anyone uttering mudblood, I’m exceedingly tired of Rowling using her platform to exert elitist assumptions of people. Of hiring an very obviously troubled man and denying a people’s right for identification. Those two issues are combative and are light years from radically feminist.

  9. adastraperaspera says:

    Transphobia is prejudice, and it is wrong. However, I think we should be cautious about using the acronym “TERF” to describe it. The fact that this term specifically targets women is problematic. For instance, there is no parallel term for men who disparage transmen. It also uses the word “feminist” as a pejorative. I think we should just continue to use “transphobia” to describe discrimination.

    • MachineElf says:

      Excellent points

      • Megan says:

        There is no movement for white men’s rights because they have all the rights, hence the lack of a term beyond transphobia.

        While feminism is becoming more intersectional, it has predominately focused on the advancement of middle class white women. Feminism needs to be a much bigger tent because the oppression of even one woman is one too many.

      • Some chick says:

        Unfortunately, there is a movement for white men’s rights. Several, in fact. MRAs. The NRA. Gamergaters. (And, of course the klan.) :-(

    • MariaS says:

      Agreed.

      • Granger says:

        As a black woman, when people say this is “white feminism” implies that only white women care about their sex. It’s SO racist. Us black women are sexually dimorphous as well and care about things that affect our female bodies.

    • Valiantly Varnished says:

      The term TERF was created by trans women to describe the unique prejudice and bigotry they face and I think we should use the terms that THEY feel comfortable with. Not the ones we prefer.

    • Hikaru says:

      Us lesbians always get called terfs and deal with rape and death threats from feminist activists (both cis women and transwomen) because they consider our female homosexuality “problematic” for not being male-inclusive.
      We have to either lie that we would be open to sex with a male of get punished for being female exclusive.

      • DaggerIsle says:

        I find the cotton ceiling highly problematic.
        Lesbians are totally left behind by the new generation of feminists.

      • Hikaru says:

        I agree. So many of us can’t go to queer spaces or attend our own events anymore because of this wave of sexual coercion in the name of validation that is constantly pushed on us by people claiming to be feminists.

  10. Lala11_7 says:

    J.K. BEEN awful…for QUITE a while…

  11. Sarah says:

    Having enjoyed her books and in the past her online presence so much I have been so disappointed by the way she has been using her platform in recent years. Her stance on Johnny Depp was awful, this is also just plain wrong.

    I’m just pleased that I already own the books, audiobooks and the films so she’s not getting any more money out of me.

  12. Case says:

    Wow. And Depp supporters cite this woman as a credible person defending his honor. LOL. Okay.

  13. Elle says:

    I have seen firsthand a lot of women uncomfortable with it, as if they feel they have personal ownership on womenhood in which trans people do not belong. I think it is also disdain for the fact that a trans person was biologically born of the other sex. They hold this against them.
    Yes there can be some discussion, but they need to lose the obvious disdain in order for there to be any valuable conversation around this. If anything, they need to be open to being educated on the matter, not the other way around. When you do not understand a minority group, it is your place to be the listener, not the teacher. Ask questions respectfully, reflect sensitively -it’s not that hard. Shouldn’t we want to be inclusive given the history of the patriarchy? Trans women can be our alias. In terms of the conversation, calling a person by their chosen gender and seeing them as such is non negotiable.

  14. Mrs.Krabapple says:

    Rowling is like Zuckerberg — they want to be that “woke” billionaire, but it’s just an act.

  15. Adrien says:

    I have been saying this but a lot of people were saying, “Proof?”. A lot of people I admire turn out to be transphobic. JKR, Graham Linehan of It Crowd, Marc Almond of SoftCell, Ricky Gervais, several Guardian contributors and so on. Anything in common? Yeah, they are all British. I have unfollowed them on twitter and one of them blocked me. Now I suspect every English hero of mine might be a transphobe.

  16. ChillyWilly says:

    Why is everyone so awful anymore? Just live and let live and love and respect each other. Why is that so damn hard for so many people?

    • Shakerfries says:

      It’s exhausting to categorise people. I understand the need to do it but I shy away from putting thing into concrete, permanent terms and allow for grey areas and refuse to cancel people unless they’re at the criminal or otherwise truly odious stage. We’re all learning and growing, hopefully.

  17. Shakerfries says:

    Very interesting discussion; thanks for the insights into feminist theory and perspectives, people. I will come back during my lunch break and read through this properly. For now I’ll just say JK Rowling seems like a nice woman in other respects – everyone has their blindspots and when does someone cross into a line where they should be “cancelled” (a very hard call)? – but she’s also a false lefty – she’s a neoliberal lefty – who is pro-remain and doesn’t understand the EU is by nature anti-democratic and anti-economic-equality. Not saying the current Brexit plans under Boris are any better at all.

  18. SJR says:

    OK, I am lost in all the new-to-me names genders I’m 58 and pretty naive as a small town lady who lives within 20 miles of my birthplace.

    But, in plain English, I am gonna go ahead and call/label JKR as a good old fashioned blockhead!
    A wealthy, well traveled, well educated author who has done publicity tours around many countries….should she not be more well-informed and up to date? Serious closed mind and judgmental attitude which she seems actually proud of spouting. No thanks.

  19. Tuntmore says:

    I’ve been done with JKR since her defense of Johnny Depp, who is the living archetype of a violent, hateful, addicted, entitled white man-child.

    I don’t think the purely scientific aspect is what the woman meant, which makes it problematic. However, I don’t think it’s incorrect to say that someone can’t fully become another sex. Sex is biologically determined; gender is a social construct. Gender can be fluid, changeable, or static. Sex is literally coded into your DNA. It’s not up for debate. You can change genders, you can have surgery, but the building blocks of your body will carry your biological sex until (and after) you die.

    That doesn’t make any transgender person “less than” people with the biological sex of their identified gender. It just means the groups are different. That’s why we have terms like “cis” and “trans.”

    I do think there’s a difference in priorities for ciswomen and transwomen, which is only to be expected given the varied life experiences. Feminist ciswomen are very concerned with reproductive rights because they feel the impacts of those decisions daily. Feminist transwomen are more concerned with discrimination, equal access, hate crimes etc., because they feel *those* impacts daily. While I definitely believe that *all* progressive-minded people should work together to make things better, I also appreciate that there will be different opinions on priorities.

    There’s nothing wrong with saying that there are *some* things that only biological females can relate to, just as there are things that only transgender females (or cismales, or transgender males, etc.) can relate to. The world treats us all differently based on who we are or who we appear to be.

  20. Lillian says:

    Folks who are truly rigid about “sex/gender” and “opposite sex” language are often (in my experience) the same “biological-reality-upholders” (in their minds and poor rhetoric) that are resistant to Actual Biological Realities like my delightful Intersex Self. Chromosomes both xx And xy, so I was created. Prick my finger- my blood doesnt lie.
    I guess my point being, like a lot of reality, sex is real and also not always what you think it means, so…. quit the preaching, some of ya straight-chromosomerz (in the most loving way possible) (this directed at 2 of the ladies in quoted article).

    • Lillian says:

      Or to say another way, I get the impression both ladies in the article above are not taking MY sex into account. My life experiences and attendant bigotries, from needing a legal letter for permission to attend kindergarten to childhood genital checks (under age 8) to harassment over my TN drivers license (had All options for a short while about 20 yrs ago- M, F, I, I-F and I-M…not so progressive now)….#AreNotADrill, and please find a way to StandWith that, if SexIsReal is your dern platform. You’re leaving out the entire middle. Life is not entirely binary. And that is a scientific biological reality.
      If you are unable or unwilling to address the whole of the issue, consider silence on the matter.