Suzanne Harrington: JK Rowling, stop explaining, start listening

Suzanne Harrington: JK Rowling, stop explaining, start listening
JK Rowling

I love a slogan t-shirt. You can walk around with what you want to say emblazoned across yourself, without ever having to open your mouth. 

It’s perfect for lazy people. My current fave covers all bases: Why Be Racist / Sexist / Homophobic / Transphobic When You Could Just Be Quiet?

I’m thinking of sending one to JK Rowling, because despite being a legend who has brought joy to millions, she seems to have a hole in her otherwise impeccable politics when it comes trans people. 

While her blind spot is not as gapingly sightless as Graham Linehan’s (on whom, I fear, a t-shirt would be wasted), the thing that is most bamboozling is how anyone who is not trans themselves feels it’s okay or appropriate or justifiable to wade in and tell trans people who and what they are, or are not. It’s like men explaining sexism to women, or straight people explaining homophobia to gay people; please, please, just shut up.

Here’s my theory, which won’t fit on a t-shirt. Gender is to Boomers and Gen X what sexuality was to generations before them. So while gayness has long been mainstreamed into the wider culture, non binary, trans and movable pronouns — unless you’re Millennial — have not yet. 

It’s all ongoing, still finding its gender-fluid feet. 

Hence the proliferation of prominent non-trans people like Rowling, Linehan and ex-heroine Germaine Greer coming out with cringey transphobic drivel, the way your nan might have made embarrassingly homophobic comments about gay cousin Colin back in 1983.

The worst kind of transphobia is the stuff that spouts from the mouths of feminists. Not from those awful Karens in Trump’s America, shrilling on about trans women using women’s bathrooms, but from the kind of women you’d imagine would be better than that. More evolved, humane, decent, welcoming, inclusive.

You’d equally imagine that trans people have enough to be dealing with internally, without the outside world piling on. The very fact that the term TERF exists at all — Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist — is not just depressing, it’s embarrassing. 

Feminism is better than that. It’s not some fannycentric golf club with an exclusive membership policy. Feminism is for everyone.

“There’s just no evidence that me being me is causing problems for any of the other women I’ve met,” tweeted journalist and trans rights activist Paris Lees. 

“If there are ever any problems between women and trans women, they should be dealt with sensitively and sensibly on a case by case basis. Please, for the love of God, leave us alone.”

Or as author Juno Dawson — who, when still James Dawson, was my daughter’s favourite ever primary school teacher — writes in her book The Gender Games, “No panel, no scientist, no politician, nor the WHO, no one can tell me – or you – how it feels to be male or female.”

And yet we persist, as non trans people, to tell trans and non binary people what they are and how they should feel.

How about shhhhhhhhh?.

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