J.K. Rowling, the Seattle Library, and the Issue That Must Not Be Named
This article was submitted to Redline by Seattle-based activist Lucinda Stoan
J.K. Rowling recognizes repression when she sees it. That’s why the author of the wildly popular Harry Potter books recently tweeted in defense of Maya Forstater.
Forstater lost her job for stating that sex is real and immutable. A judge has ruled that her scientifically accurate statements made outside of work are a perfectly fine basis for dismissing her. And now Rowling and anyone else who defends Forstater is under attack. Some are even calling for Harry Potter book burnings.
Voldemort would be very pleased by all of this. But rational people committed to free speech, women’s rights, children’s health, gay rights, and material reality should be horrified. Especially since this kind of thing and much worse is happening all over the world.
One important showdown is underway here in Seattle. The Public Library is under attack for allowing women to hold an event on February 1st, entitled Fighting the New Misogyny: A Feminist Critique of Gender Identity. Library Trustees have heard public comment on the matter at two separate meetings. We expected an announcement confirming our room rental at the second of those meetings on December 19th. But the Trustees opted to seek additional legal counsel instead. City attorneys have already made it clear that it would be illegal to cancel the event, but some Trustees were hopeful that there would be a way to get around the pesky First Amendment.
On January 10th, the Library affirmed that the Women’s Liberation Front would be allowed to use library meeting space for its February 1st event.
Meanwhile, a couple hours north of Seattle, the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter is under attack as well. The shelter chose to honor the wishes of those it serves by interpreting its women-only policy to exclude all men, including those who identify as women. As a result, trans activists have persuaded the city of Vancouver to cancel funding for the shelter. Someone scrawled “DIE TERFS” on the shelter’s storefront and nailed a dead rat to the door. (TERF is a slur that stands for “trans exclusionary radical feminist”.)
These conflicts are the tip of the iceberg. They are ugly glimpses of a seething authoritarian force wreaking havoc around the world—one we can no longer ignore.
The Heart of the Debate
What does the word “woman” mean? Dueling responses to that question are at the heart of controversies unfolding everywhere.
Here’s the first definition: A “woman” is an adult human female. In other words, women are adults who have female anatomy. (In biological terms, that’s the anatomy of the sex associated with the production of large gametes, whether or not a particular individual’s anatomy is functional for that purpose.)
Here’s the other definition. A “woman” is any adult who feels like a woman. It doesn’t matter if that person has male anatomy, including, for example, a penis, instead of female anatomy. It’s the feeling that counts.
At a minimum, it should be obvious that the first definition is reasonable, and worthy of respect, even if some don’t agree with it. But those who adhere to the second definition have gained the upper hand. And they’ve created an atmosphere in which those who consider women to be “adult human females” are instantly denounced as hateful transphobic bigots. Stating that first definition, asserting that sex is real and immutable, and noting that people who identify as the opposite sex are not actually that sex, are now even declared to be “violence”.
The mantra “transwomen are women” is repeated over and over again. And, as has happened at the Seattle Public Library meetings, any person who declares otherwise is automatically declared guilty of “hate speech”. (“Transwomen” is the term males who say they’re women use for themselves.)
These smears—that we’re hateful, bigoted, transphobic or violent—are used to shut us down. Individuals are fired from their jobs. Venues refuse to let us rent their spaces for our events. Media outlets refuse to publish what we write. Organizations we belong to kick us out. Our in-boxes fill up with cruel and often frightening messages, telling us to shut up. And more.
Once someone has been successfully silenced in one arena, the mob uses that fact to silence them in another. Meghan Murphy, one of the speakers scheduled to speak at the February 1stevent, for example, was banned from Twitter for using “him” to refer to Jonathan/Jessica Yaniv. It’s outrageous that Twitter bans people for using the pronoun that matches a person’s actual biological sex. But the punishment for Murphy’s so-called “misgendering” is all the more troubling, because Yaniv used a male name on social media at the time and had not specified a preference for female pronouns. Now Seattle activists are pointing to what Twitter has done to Murphy as an appropriate basis for the Library not allowing her to speak.
It’s a nifty authoritarian trick. Censor someone on a dubious pretext in one domain and then point to that to justify further censorship elsewhere.
For those who don’t know, Jonathan/Jessica Yaniv is the person who demanded “Brazilian” bikini waxing services from multiple female estheticians in Canada. The women, most of whom are immigrant women of color, politely declined. They didn’t feel safe with a male-bodied stranger in their homes, and they didn’t want to handle Yaniv’s male anatomy. Due to the Twitter ban, Murphy was unable to tweet about Yaniv’s obnoxious harassment of these women, including dragging them before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
None of the February 1st event speakers, organizers and supporters advocate violence. None are transphobic, hateful or bigoted. All strongly support human rights for everyone, including people who identify as transgender. Most have fought against sex stereotypes their whole lives.
Nonetheless, just like Maya Forstater, J.K. Rowling, staffers at the Vancouver rape shelter, and countless other women around the world, we are declared evil. And we are considered fair game for firing, de-platforming and more. People cheer as the mob goes after us to make sure we’re silenced.
Those who insist that one’s body has nothing to do with one’s sex don’t limit their wrath to those who declare sex to be real, dimorphic and immutable. Try referring to things like menstruation and giving birth as womanly functions, for example. You’ll be attacked, because we’re all required to agree that men menstruate and have babies, too. (“Transmen”, that is—females who consider themselves men.) Using terms like “vagina” and “uterus” when talking about women is off limits, as well. Those who call themselves “transwomen” usually have penises and other male anatomy instead. They deem it “exclusionary” for women to talk about our bodies using correct anatomical terms.
Biology and Smokescreens
How have those who define woman as a feeling come to hold such power? Part of the answer is that they’ve successfully fostered widespread confusion about basic biology. They’ve tossed about impressive-sounding factoids, completely out of context, creating a veneer of scientific respectability on a blatantly anti-scientific narrative.
In particular, trans activists regularly note that there are intersex humans, i.e. individuals born with disorders of sexual development (DSDs). They point to people with unusual chromosomes, and various other conditions. While it’s rarely spelled out, the existence of these sexual anomalies is used to imply that sex is not real, it’s not dimorphic, and it is malleable.
What they don’t mention is that in 99.98% of live births, there is no doubt whatsoever as to whether a baby is male or female. As for the very rare cases of sexual ambiguity, none involve a sex beyond male or female. There is no 3rd or 4th sex. Sex is not a spectrum, period.
More importantly, trans activists also fail to mention that most trans-identifying people don’t have DSDs! References to those conditions are a complete smokescreen.
For nearly every trans-identifying individual, there is no physiological basis whatsoever for claiming to be the other sex. They don’t have unusual chromosomes or other anatomy associated with that other sex. The only basis for their claims is that they “feel” like the other sex.
How does a male know what it feels like to be a woman? Well, they just do. There’s no definition. There’s no requirement for anything at all. If any man in the world says he’s a woman, he simply is. If a description of this “womanly” feeling is offered—which happens only rarely—it looks remarkably like the sex stereotypes feminists have fought against for centuries.
We are not allowed to question a trans-identifying male’s feelings about womanhood. Those feelings are declared sacrosanct. If an adult human female tries to explain what it feels like to be a woman, however, she’s called a bigot, and told to shut up. At the December 19th Seattle Library public meeting, trans activists belittled one such woman, with loud obnoxious derisive laughter.
Many people with DSDs strenuously object to the misrepresentation and misuse of their conditions by trans activists. Claire Graham is a good example. Unfortunately, the authoritarian forces bent on silencing anyone who questions their narrative on sex, have people like Graham in their sights, too. They got her Twitter account shut down again a couple of weeks ago.
Not all trans-identifying individuals agree that “transwomen are women”. But you won’t hear that from the people demanding that the Seattle Public Library “support trans people” by banning our event. Teacher Debbie Hayton, for example, is a man who identifies as a woman, yet wears a T-shirt that says, “Transwomen are not women.” Hayton has stated that “Trans women are biologically male—in fact being male is the sole qualifying criterion to be a trans woman”. As a result, an orchestrated campaign is underway to expel him from the LGBT committee of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), a federation representing the majority of trade unions in England and Wales. The basis of the expulsion is Hayton’s so-called “transphobia”. Do you see the pattern here?
It should also be noted that it is not only speech pertaining to sex and gender policies that is silenced. US anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, as just one example, was recently disinvited as a speaker at an anti-war event, after she defended a friend who was attacked for her views on trans issues.
Why This All Matters
Any person who cares about freedom of speech should be deeply concerned by what’s going on in the name of “trans rights”. It is unacceptable that individuals are being punished for deviating from the dominant narrative, that panels and conferences are being canceled, and that so many people are too frightened to even question the declaration that anyone can be a woman.
But a lot more is at stake than authoritarian efforts to force people to use certain definitions of woman and man, and to otherwise alter our speech. The transwomen-are-women ideology has been injected into institutions and policies around the world, and much damage has already been done as a result.
Trans-identifying males allowed into women’s shelters and prisons have traumatized and attacked women in those spaces. Trans-identifying males competing in women’s sports, have pushed girls and women off the team, off the podium, and out of the record books. Male-bodied people are pressuring lesbians to have sex with them and denouncing those women as “transphobes” if they refuse. Trans-identifying males are filling women-only positions that were set aside to mitigate historical discrimination against women.
Since anyone feeling like the other sex is said to be the other sex, children are being swiftly funneled into chemical treatments and other medical interventions. These have serious, irreversible consequences for long-term health, sexual functioning and fertility. Health professionals who counsel slowing down are attacked and ignored. So are growing numbers of detransitioners who are coming forward to describe their deep regret at having undergone chemical and surgical transitions.
All of this is just a small part of what’s going on. For a good overview with links to source documentation, see the article To Advance Civil Rights, Oppose Trans Extremism. For an additional excellent explanation of why sex is real, dimorphic and immutable, click here.
What Happens Next?
Here is J.K. Rowling’s full #IStandWithMaya tweet: “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”
Does that tweet warrant denouncements of Rowling as a transphobe, “f**k you” messages, violent threats, and Harry Potter book burnings? Or is the smearing and silencing of people like Rowling part of a dark oppressive cloud enveloping the Earth, much like the ones described in the Potter books whenever Voldemort was ascending?
A powerful force is at large which is swiftly tearing down women’s hard-won rights to privacy, sports, affirmative action, same-sex partners, and more. It is contributing to a childhood medicalization scandal of giant proportions. And it is persuading public and private institutions to undermine free speech rather than promote it.
Many of us have treated the issue referenced in this article as the “issue-that-must-not-be-named.” We’ve steered clear of it to avoid retribution. But it’s time to stand up.
We can and must defend the human rights of all people, including those who consider themselves “trans”. But that does not mean we must agree to the definitions some trans people use, that women must cede our sex-based rights, and that we must acquiesce in the censorship some espouse.
Contact the Seattle Public Library (Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner) to support the library confirming the February 1st event. Support the event itself. Send donations to the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. Like and forward J.K .Rowling’s tweet and help Maya Forstater as she appeals the decision against her. Do whatever you can to come up to speed on what’s happening on this issue and to connect with others who are saying “Enough is enough”.
Lucinda Stoan is a pseudonym for a Seattle-based activist who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org