JK Rowling’s June 10th essay. She wants to have the intellectual freedom to support Maya Forstater, and says that it’s wrong that the judge upheld Forstater’s firing over Tweets stating her belief that in biological determinism of sex. She also innocently wanted to follow and start a relationship with Magdalen Berns so that she could talk with , another biological determinist. Rowling was then subjected to abusive language and accused of hurting people who were trans, simply for following her curiosity. This covers her essay up to the first use of the acronym TERF.
Even before we look at Forstater and Berns, I want to call “bullshit!” And that’s simply on the basis of my own Twitter handle and persona. I write and post under a pseudonym. Any identifying landmark or proper name in my “memoir” posts are fictitious; my wife’s name is not really Concetta, I don’t really live in Philadelphia, etc. I want the freedom to tell my stories and explore my curiosity. I’m a chaotic individual who likes to see how different people live, talk, believe. And fuck. Let’s not forget that.
But as a physician, I’m a public figure. I represent my hospital and my residency. My 1000 word essay on exploring my body and masturbating doesn’t represent my hospital. It represents me personally. So I use a pseudonym.
Rowling is under no compulsion to use her own name. She can be anyone on the internet. She could have sent a personal message to Bern, giving her a cell number. It’s disingenuous to say that following her was a simple attempt to get to know her better. She was impressed by Bern’s personal story, and wanted to show public support for Bern’s beliefs, throwing her celebrity behind them. She should own that. It’s the equivalent of me posting under my true name and @ ‘ing my hospital on my masturbation essay. I’m not trying to make a public political statement on masturbation or offering it as health care advice. I’m just telling my story.
She want to be able to make statements as a public figure. She is advocating for her persona beliefs, as the author of Harry Potter. She ascribes the abuse she’s received online to trans activists. Are they really trans activists? I have to wonder. I believe people wrote curse words into her twitter feed, but these could literally be anyone, and to attribute the statements to the movement is specious reasoning.
On to Maya Forstater. Was she forced out of her job for stating that biological sex is real? I’ve been reading the judgment against her, stating that she cannot sue the think tank she worked for because her contract wasn’t renewed.
Forstater was doing exactly what Rowling was doing. She was tweeting publicly using her own name, and dismissing Bunce’s gender designation. This wasn’t an isolated incident; there are multiple instances where she decided to continue describing an individual by their presumed chromosomal status as opposed to their stated gender identity. And because the think tank recognized that Forstater was making these statements as a contracted employee, and thus publicly representing the values of the think tank, they did not renew her contract.
By way of analogy, let’s look at race, and Barack Obama, technically a biracial man, who identifies as black. If Forstater were to tweet the statement, “I don’t care who Obama thinks he is, I look at him and I know he’s a white man,” it would not only be rude, hurtful, and ignorant, but would deny a greater complexity in racial identity than the simple racial identification into a black/white binary choice. Also, as we’ve learned from mitochondrial DNA research, race is much more complex than it was previously understood as an index of a person’s melanin level, and it would be inaccurate to state that a person is or is not black simply based on the characteristic which you observe.
Forstater is insisting that the terms “male” and “female” serve to describe the chromosomal status of an individual, and she is free to describe that individual as often as she’d like by that binary. I contend that this is much like saying that Obama is black, or white, but it’s impossible that there could be ambiguity about the definition, and so we would defer to his own self designation. She wants to use the denotation of male and female, willfully ignoring its connotations.
Forstater lists her definition of “male” and “female” as if it were a religious doctrine:
Surely, if Forstater was making such a bold claim, dismissing the identities of so many people throughout the world, she would have reviewed the medical science, wouldn’t she?
She didn’t. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome can have a Y chromosome and complete female body habitus. Gaby Odiele and Pidgeon Pagonis are individuals with XY chromosomes, whose bodies don’t respond to testosterone. As an aside, I’ll restate my earlier outrage: was someone going to tell me how fucking sexy intersex people are, or was I just supposed to find out for myself?
An additional chromosomal exception to Forstater’s definition is Turner syndrome, in which a single X chromosome is passed. Individuals do not develop reproductive organs, but do have female body habitus. The tone of Forstater’s statements expressed above would imply she would have no problem according a “female” designation upon an individual with Turner Syndrome, but she would have already invalidated her own argument.
I expect that, much like with our knowledge of race which we gained through mitochondrial DNA research, as we learn more about the development of primary and secondary sexual characteristics, we’ll understand the phenomenon more thoroughly. As a physician, I believe in unconditional positive regard, that you believe what someone tells you about themselves and their symptoms until you have knowledge to the contrary.
As an aside, I wrote the above comments on Androgen Insensitivity and Turner syndrome before I read through the whole document written by the judge. On page 12, they specifically these conditions to refute Forstater. Great minds, as they say.
Forstater also repeats the hack comedy trope about trans athletes: “Short and to the point by .. “lt is unfair and unsafe for transwomen to compete in women’s sport””. This oft-repeated story of the hyper-competitive man who transitions in order to dominate a woman’s sport has to be true, doesn’t it? It certainly couldn’t be researched, or the subject of thoughtful consideration.
It could. In Sport and Transgender People: A Systematic Review of the Literature Relating to Sport Participation and Competitive Sport Policies, authors Jones, Arcelas, and Bouman (Sports Medicine, 2017) do the work that Joe Rogan and Ricky Gervais won’t.
One year after hormone therapy, trans female athletes would have no advantage over their non-trans competitors. If you were to make any other claim, you should probably do research, right?
There’s so many things wrong with the argument already. Basically, I reject Rowling’s desire to both inveigh in the discussion and also deny all accountability. I believe she knew full well she was making a political and personal statement to people who looked up to her. She allied herself with a highly questionable court test case.
OK, I’m not going to be able to cover her entire essay. There’s too many things. I’ll wrap up by touching on a few points. Rowling’s concerned that social media and the challenges of being a girl will become a hazard, and girls will abandon their reproductive organs just to join the mad dash to become men.
This ignores the requirement for mental health evaluation and a documented history of gender dysphoria. You can’t go into Costco and buy the hormones off the shelf, and then go to your family doctor and have the surgery. There’s a process.
Rowling is concerned that trans females would use their place in the bathroom to hurt women. From Media Matters:
You needn’t chuck Harry Potter in the wastebasket of J.K. Rowling’s ill considered diatribes (which the psychoanalyst in me attributes to her subconscious desire to recreate the poverty, freedom, and anonymity she once enjoyed). If Harry and the wizarding world meant anything to you, it was because of the story you created out of it. She wrote the words, but you’re the one who gave it a life in your mind. She doesn’t own these characters, and if you want them to mean something other than her, it’s your personal legend. Don’t let her take it from you.
However, if you are in search of a replacement for Harry Potter, like say, a shit-kicking trans-woman psychic magician who runs with a revolutionary organization and kills demons with her high heels, you’re going to love Lord Fanny from the Invisibles. Raised by her bruja grandmother as a shaman and devotee of the Aztec goddess Tlazolteotl , Fanny was a sex worker before she joined the group. She’s the glue that holds the team together.
If you are a transgender person reading this, allow me to make a brief public service announcement. After your gender reassignment surgery, keep a short list of what reproductive organs you have had removed and which you retain on your person. If you go to the emergency room and have abdominal pain or pelvic pain, and you still have ovaries, it’s essential for the physician treating you to know, so that diagnosis can be made in enough time if you would need surgery.
Also, if you have a prostate, a cervix, mammary tissue, etc., make sure that your physician is performing appropriate cancer screening and evaluation for those organs. If we screen for a cancer, that means we can catch it at an early stage and remove it with the fewest possible complications for you.