JK Rowling’s in the news again. For another of those reasons.
I could express an opinion on this story. Because it’s a complex situation and warrants a nuanced discussion and a reasoned examination. But there’s a problem.
The trouble is that if I, <contrapoints>as a trans woman</contrapoints>, were to try to engage in nuanced discussion over the complexities of sex and gender as distinct concepts, how they are different and how they are interlinked, I have no doubt that there would be people who’d leap on anything I said and try to spin it and exploit it to show why I shouldn’t exist – and why, until they can make me not exist, I should be treated as an abomination.
Which all sounds rather dramatic given that I personally have had no real problems with anyone I’ve met – but I’m under no illusions about the issues many other trans people face who aren’t lucky enough to have the friends and family and communities that I have. And I’m absolutely clear on how trans people are viewed by social media and the print media at large – and on the whole, it ain’t with affection.
A lot of people out there label themselves things like “gender critical”, and roll around challenging trans people and our friends to justify ourselves. “Gender critical” people insist they only want to discuss the issues reasonably and rationally. Which sounds great, doesn’t it? Reason and rationality are good! And I for one would love to engage in such discussion. Trans stuff is weird and perplexing and scary and unpleasant and upsetting and incredibly funny and stupid and joyous, mostly all at the same time, and there’s a lot there to understand. And I would be delighted to share what I’ve experienced – within reason, I mean. There are details that… Well, anyway.
Some trans people are very private, as is their right. I’m comparatively open, as is mine. And I’d love to talk about these things with anyone who asks me in good faith and who genuinely wants to know.
But if I can’t be sure that’s what they actually want, I have a responsibility not to play into their hands. I owe a duty to my trans sisters, brothers and other siblings not to allow my naive openness to hand ammunition to people who want to make us go away, especially those who would do so in the most literal, final sense if they had the chance. And if the starting point of a discussion is an outright denial of my lived experience and my right to exist, there’s really nowhere for us to go from there.
If you consider it axiomatic, as some so-called “radical feminists” seem to do, that my existence as a trans woman intrinsically and unavoidably denies and suppresses your own rights and identity – that it “erases” you – then we are going to find it hard to establish a starting point for any good-faith discussion. In fact, until you can come to respect my human dignity as I already do yours (even if I disagree with your basic premise and oppose what you want to do to me), and until you’re willing to accept the fact that I have a degree of knowledge and understanding of myself, we’re going to struggle.
I want to believe in people’s good faith when they tell me they just want to discuss the issues. But belief isn’t something I can just decide to have. Until they give me reason to believe, I have to stand the line with my siblings and those many kind, understanding people who support our right to exist. Otherwise, for my sake and for theirs, I cannot afford to let this guard down lightly.
Is it unfair that I place the onus on others to convince me that they mean well? Perhaps. In an ideal world I’d rather assume everyone speaks and acts with sincerity. But the world is very far from ideal. So while I will continue to share my experiences as an individual with anyone who wants to hear about them, when it comes to my position on public situations that affect all trans people – like the one JK has waded into and amplified here – the shields, I’m afraid, have to stay up.