There has been some press even here in Australia around JK Rowling’s recent Tweets and subsequent blog article around her concerns with transgender people. On the one hand, she is supportive; on the other hand, wants to put limits.
Pretty quickly three high profile actors (Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint) from her famous Harry Potter series movies came out extending their full support for the transgender community and politely challenged Rowling on her views. Additionally, Eddie Redmayne (from the Harry Potter spin-off film series Fantastic Beasts) has also come out fully supporting transgender people.
Her defending blog is quite extensive, but unfortunately, like many who hold an unfavourable position to full inclusion of transgender people, it is selective in how it is written.
Rowling does complain about threats, which are not acceptable in any discourse (I know I received numerous implied death threats during the Marriage Equality debate).
Within the Uniting Church in Australia, (where I am a member), it should not need to be restated, but I will, Transgender people hold full and equal rights of membership as any other member within our Church.
While this may seem to be an international issue, News Corporation, mainly in The Australian since July 2019, and to a lesser extend The Daily Telegraph and SkyNews, have been running an extensive anti-transgender campaign. NewsCorp has also been running a comprehensive anti-transgender campaign in the United Kingdom.
There are fundamentally two critical elements of the campaign, firstly the increase in the number of transgender people and children wanting to access puberty blockers and with this, the “sudden” high growth “detransitioners”. Secondly, a particular focus on Transgender women, are they women and should they have access to women’s space putting other women at risk? The Australian is now morphing its campaign around concerns of people on the autism spectrum and “an apparent correlation” to transgender people.
Part of the News Corporation campaign is to have an inquiry in to transgender support health programs in Australia (as they have succeeded in the UK). The Federal Minister of Health sought the advice of the Royal Australian College of Physicians who rejected the need for an inquiry and responded that such an inquiry would have negative mental health consequences for transgender people stating[i]
“The RACP strongly supports expert clinical care that is non-judgemental, supportive and welcoming for children, adolescents and their families experiencing gender dysphoria” and “Withholding or limiting access to care and treatment would be unethical and would have serious impacts on the health and wellbeing of young people” and “Finally, our clinicians noted that there are substantial dangers posed by some of the proposals that have been put forward during the recent public debate on this issue, such as holding a national inquiry into the issue. A national inquiry would not increase the scientific evidence available regarding gender dysphoria but would further harm vulnerable patients and their families through increased media and public attention.”
There is so much I could say, but I want to focus on a few key points that I think need rebuttal, and hopefully an educational piece for members of the Uniting Church and other Christians.
Much of The Australian’s early work had a connection to the research of Lisa Littman, a researcher in the USA that indicated that the sudden rise in the number of transgender children was a result in the term “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” through “social contagion” (ie social media/peer pressure). JK Rowing also refers to her work and study. Her university initially pulled her research due to some questions on the method and approach, and additional work was required while her study results remained largely unchanged.
There continue to be significant questions on the credibility of her work, primarily through its study method. I won’t go into all the details here, but you can read an academic criticism of the study by Arjee Javellana Restar[ii]. It is important to understand that being transgender is not a mental health issue/or disorder (although many transgender people have mental health issues as a consequence of how they are treated by society, and often by religious people and organisations).
The key issues that concern me with the Littman study are (a) there appears to be an underlying negative pathological position and terminology towards transgender people which is against all accepted health professional bodies and the WHO, (b) there appears to be a self-selection bias in the recruitment of parents which was biased towards anti-transgender social media groups and (c) the study did not engage with the transgender child/youth, which is a concern as there was a very high percentage of parents 76.5% who did not believe their child was transgender.
So, I have concerns that Rowling is pinning some of her non-affirming of transgender people on what does appear to be a flawed piece of research. It is in my opinion that if parents show a negativity towards LGBTIQ people, children will delay sharing themselves with them. If a home appears to be anti-transgender, then a transgender child is less to raise the issue. When their gender dysphoria becomes severe, often in their later teens and parents become aware sometimes via mental health issues, it then appears to these parents as “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”. In contrast, the child has been aware of this for many years. As an example as a cis gendered gay man, I didn’t come out until some 24 years after my father had died.
Concerns around puberty blockers have been a key part of the News Corporation campaign, and they and Rowling make comments such as “extensive research that studies have consistently shown that between 60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria” and yet Rowling does not provide a link to any such evidence.
There is no demonstratable evidence that puberty blockers cause long term harm to Transgender children (who are often on them for shorter periods than children with other medical presentation for the use of the medication). The linked website in the end notesvprovides links to a considerable number of studies that refute this assumed issue.[iii]
Australia, like many countries, has a very well-established protocol for the assessment and managing the treatment of Transgender children, and if you are interested, you can read and download the document. I would encourage readers to download[iv] the document to be informed of the actual protocols and not what is often in the media as misinformation.
Another area Rowling talks about, with expansive language without data is the apparent “increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning (returning to their original sex)”. But when we look at meta studies undertaken by Cornell University[v]
“Regrets following gender transition are extremely rare and have become even rarer as both surgical techniques and social support have improved. Pooling data from numerous studies demonstrates a regret rate ranging from .3 percent to 3.8 percent. Regrets are most likely to result from a lack of social support after transition or poor surgical outcomes using older techniques.”
The evidence doesn’t support the anecdotal commentary from Rowling.
The last thing that concerned me around Rowling’s article was that having suffered sexual abuse she didn’t want transgender women to share space with her. It is horrifying that she has been a victim of sexual abuse and I don’t in any way downgrade that experience or impact on her life.
I too am a victim, in my case of domestic violence, so does that mean that as my abuser was a male, that as a male I should exclude all other men from the spaces I need to be in?
I am not going to suggest that you cannot find an example of a woman assaulted in a women’s space by a Transgender woman. Still, it is essential to remember that cis women also assault women in women’s areas. Commentary from police forces in the USA[vi] that has had long-standing anti-discrimination policies (and the lack of the discriminatory “bathroom bills”) do not record this as an issue.
Sadly Rowling tries to play down the suicidality that is often an issue for Transgender people. The LGBTIQ Health Alliance 2020 “Snapshot of Mental health and Suicide Prevention Statistics for LGBTIQ People”[vii]:
- 48.1% of transgender and gender diverse people aged 14 to 25 have attempted suicide in their lifetime
- Compared to the general population ….Transgender people aged 18 and over are nearly eleven times more likely …. to attempt suicide
- 41% of transgender people and non-binary people aged 18 years and over reported thoughts of suicide or self-harm in the last two weeks
- Transgender people are six and a half times more likely … to engage in self-harm in their lifetime
- 53% of transgender people aged 18 and over have self-harmed in their lifetime, 11% currently self- harming
- 74% of transgender and gender diverse16 people aged 14 to 25 have been diagnosed with depression in their lifetime
This is why the power of people like JK Rowling is so dangerous, and why we as a Christian community should be taking a stand.
There are other issues I have in the JK Rowling blog, but I will stop here!
Unfortunately, many Christian communities reject Transgender people adding to the traumas in their lives.
We should not.
The Australian ABC Television show Compass recently showed a new film about two transgender Christians. I was fortunate enough to go to the World Premiere in Sydney 2020 just before COVID took over our world. It would be worth your time (28 odd minutes) to watch this documentary.
I would encourage everyone in the Uniting Church and more broadly in the Christian community to become informed of the issues around transgender people, and carefully analyse the sources and background people present. The Australian and the Australian Christian Lobby regularly present a Professor of Paediatrics as an expert against transgender people. His status sways some people. Unfortunately, he has no peer-reviewed academic research in the area, his field of medical education is not in the area of transgender people, and he finally admitted last year that he has never treated a transgender patient. His positioning comes from a very conservative Christian perspective. So, titles can be used to confuse and deflect.
Similarly, a Professor of Law at another university, who in research around children and the Family Court encourages courts to listen to Children, but when it comes to Transgender children, he takes the opposite position. The media fail to note that he has had strong connections with the Australian Christian Lobby.
Transgender people have been part of our society for eternity. It is time they are treated with respect and inclusion as any other member of the human race.
JK Rowling created a fantastic series of books, that my children loved, as so many children around the world. Her, in my view, uninformed views on Transgender women should not detract from those works nor the benefits they have provided to so many children, particularly those that didn’t read until that series arrived. However, using her platform to support exclusion and the rejection of transgender people is, in my view, not acceptable and should not be tolerated.
Member of the Uniting Church and LGBTIQ Advocate
These views are of the author and not any group within the Uniting Church or outside.