I planned take up with a couple of folks’ Facebook pages but seems I have rather more to say than might be welcome on someobody else’s sovereign rhetorical space. At least here, I can go on and on, as I am wont to do, and I haven’t offended an original poster on his own page.
I refer to the tempest in the teacup that has come on the heels of an actual tempest in our streets in recent days. I just read J.K. Rowling’s essay. It is thoughtful and well-expressed, not the angry, hateful, ignorant screed I expected, based solely on the outraged response it has gotten in the press and especially on social media. What troubles me greatly, as a teacher of critical thinking and dialogue, is the idea that, according to some bandwagon thinkers, anyone not on the bandwagon should be disallowed to have their own, different experiences and narratives (about which, for Rowling’s own part and on her own behalf, she speaks eloquently–at least in the essay presently the subject of the ruckus). Rowling, I take it, according to her critics, is to be soundly and publicly spanked for daring to express her own thoughts on a subject that, she makes clear, is of deep personal interest to her and important to everyone, not only to those who identify as trans (and not just to those most activist, most vocal, and most angry). Rowling is rightly concerned about the chilling effects, upon critical thinking and public conversation, of any movement or discourse that brooks no dialogue and no nuance; that labels, as an enemy, anyone who doesn’t fall in line and walk the approved talk. Her reflections upon her own youth resonate powerfully with my own (disallowed, untold, marginalized) story) of coming to terms with, finally accepting and making a space for my biological sex and my experienced/performed/ascribed gender and sexuality (both of which varied fluidly along a spectrum) in a world that tolerated some, but not much, deviation. Claiming to be a proponent of freedom of expression while punishing a woman who speaks her truth is bewildering to me and strikes me as anti-feminist and even anti-woman: surely, Rowling’s right to dissent and to speak her mind was hard-fought and hard-won by feminists and by herself. It must have taken her, a public figure with a lot to lose, a great deal of courage, in this “I Hereby Cancel Thou!” era of social media, to challenge the emergent, master narrative of the self-righteous marginalized: to dare to tell her own story as if it were as legitimate as the stories of others, and to have her own perspective. She must have given her essay careful thought and sleepless nights, and ended up feeling that she had to take the risk. I don’t see anything in her essay that is, truly, “devastating” as at least one headline labeled it. (The number of women who are raped every year globally is devastating. The number of black men in prison, or the number of black victims of police violence is devastating. The scope of prescription drug dependance and abuse is devastating. Children kept in cages at our border– that is devastating. Rowling’s essay is not).
Rowling’s reflections might be welcomed as adding yet more depth, breadth and understanding to a complex subject that is relevant to all humans–in which case, she and everyone else has an equal stake in it. Or, perhaps, this ought to be an insider movement, no concern of Rowling’s or anybody else who is not vociferously identified with the rhetoric (in which case, why ought anybody to care what an irrelevant, “insider-only” movement says or wants?) This is what I hear Rowling saying: she is concerned, as are many (gay, lesbian, bi, straight, female, male, trans) people–scholars, health professionals, social philosophers, feminists– about how women and girls are impacted by a return to binary thinking that underpins some versions of trans performance; concerned about the serious implications of messages we send to developing children, adolescents and young adults who necessarily face questions of who they are, how they “fit in” or don’t, and how to deal with powerful, often conflicted feelings of emerging sexuality and identity–and she is also concerned that we have entered (yet) a(nother) time in our society when women who voice a reflection, story or opinion that doesn’t fall into political line with approved activist rhetoric are vilified, put back in their places and told to shut up.