When my niece, Jesse, was two years old — as soon as she was capable of speech — she started to let anyone who would listen to her know that she was a girl.
When she was a couple of years older she told my sister, her grandmother, that she’d wear boy’s clothes — but that she was only pretending to be a boy. That was when my sister, an evangelical Christian, understood that she really did have a granddaughter.
Jesse is a girl. She’s in the second grade. There’s no way to spend more than a few minutes with her without knowing that she’s a girl the same way my daughters are. She just is a girl.
I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around how painful and difficult it must have been today for Jesse’s mom, who is a major J.K. Rowling fan, to see a Tweet from one of her heroes that read like this:
The Maya in question is Maya Forstater, a researcher who was fired from her job. From that link:
Forstater lost her job as a visiting fellow at the Centre for Global Development, an anti-poverty thinktank that has offices in London and Washington.
She was accused at the employment tribunal of having retweeted transphobic material, including a newspaper cartoon of a person flashing two women at a London swimming pond, with the caption “It’s alright — it’s a woman’s penis”.
I’m not going to get into whether or not this kind of feminism — the kind that refuses to accept transwomen as women — is right or wrong. It’s not worth arguing about and fighting over it gives legitimacy to transphobic ideas that don’t deserve the bandwidth.
What I want to say here is that when you have a platform the size of Rowling’s — when you know for sure, 100 percent for certain that your words will hurt thousands of people — that kind of power comes with responsibility.
Also from that post:
Rowling had previously been criticised for liking a tweet that referred to trans women as “men in dresses”. Rowling’s representative later blamed a “middle-age moment” for the like, and said it stemmed from the author mishandling her phone.
This is not another middle-age moment. This is a deliberate stance. And it’s a stance on the wrong side, because any stance that hurts as many people as were certainly hurt by J.K. Rowling’s statement has to be wrong.
I know that someone will probably come out and say that’s not fair. That Rowling should be able to believe what she wants to believe. She should be able to use her platform in whatever way she thinks is right.
I don’t want to argue that point. I just want to say, again, that when you have a platform that’s as huge and all-encompassing as hers is, you have a responsibility to not cause harm with it.
I had the same problem when Orson Scott Card got all vocal and ugly about marriage rights several years ago. Ender’s Game was a formative book for me. This author meant a lot to me.
I wasn’t under any kind of illusion that he was some sort of progressive. I knew better than that. But I didn’t want to have to listen to him fight against equal rights and his decision to do that hurt people.
Maybe J.K. Rowling really does believe that transwomen are men in dresses. Orson Scott Card made himself very clear that he really does believe that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry.
But do they have the right to hurt people without consequence?
I don’t think so. You can’t put forward a nuanced, considered idea in a Tweet. You can’t take a stand that you know will crush people (forget pronouns…we’re just talking about human beings here) who idolize you and expect not to hear about it.
Me? I stand with Jesse.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter and Instagram and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.