Depulso! is the charm used to banish people in Harry Potter’s world. In our world, apparently it’s J.K. Rowling’s turn to be banished. For those of you who missed it, the J.K. Rowling crisis seems to have been precipitated by her reaction to the phrase "people who menstruate” (my emphasis.)
She took umbrage, insisting that only women menstruate and many folks took this to be a diss of trans folks and proceeded to “cancel” her, the current term for social media banishment.
I can't speak to other comments she's made or her attitudes. I also can't speak to who's a woman and who isn't a woman but I'd like to raise a couple of issues that have been roiling the waters for cis gendered women and trans gendered women and humans in general.
First, biology. For the most part, 8 year-old girls don't menstruate. Most 60 year-old women don't menstruate either. And amenorrhoeic women don’t menstruate. So I think menstruation isn't particularly useful as a "definer" of womanhood or femininity.
Still on biology, I think that there does need to be a discussion about cis and trans gendered women (and hermaphrodites) competing equitably in sports. We know that fitness and musculature and healing rates can be enhanced by hormones and steroids and other substances. This is why "doping" disqualifies athletes - it gives them an unfair advantage.
There is a concern that trans gendered and hermaphroditic women may have an unfair advantage given their hormone profiles or the drugs they take. As a result, trans gendered and hermaphroditic women are forced to come into compliance so they can compete.
But changing hormone regimens can really harm someone’s health and well being. Does it make more sense for trans gendered women and hermaphroditic women to have their own categories in Olympic games? And by extension, their own categories in college and high school sports? Or perhaps it's like golf or boxing where there's a handicapping system or weight classification?
I'm just raising the question - I don't know enough to have an opinion. All I know is that there is a difference that can make a difference when it comes to competing in sports and it needs to be addressed in a way that lets everyone have the joy of competing in the fairest and healthiest way possible.
Still on biology, there are also concerns about what it takes for human beings to transition from one sex to another. If you all remember, there was a time when Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) was widely prescribed for menopausal women as a way to control hot flashes and some of the other side effects associated with transitioning from fertility to, dare I say it, freedom. Until HRT was found to cause cancer. Almost overnight, the market for HRT disappeared.
But now pharmaceutical companies have a new market for their hormone products and they have lost no time exploiting it. In some areas, children as young as 8 are being placed on these drugs. Big Pharma is already making billions-with-a-B dollars in what would seem to be a niche area with very little oversight. I would like us to do the research and testing to determine if these drugs are safe and to create protocols that are safe. Sorry, I don’t trust Big Pharma – I think we need independent studies and oversight that focuses on science to ensure safety.
Second, I think we need to talk about the function of girls schools and women's colleges. Many of these schools were founded to give girls and women the opportunity to lead and to learn the skills that would equip them to run for office or found companies - opportunities that were denied them in our patriarchal society.
There has been anecdotal talk about how trans gendered women at women’s colleges and in women's organizations are filling those leadership roles and depriving young cis gendered women of the opportunities that these schools and organizations were founded to provide. I don't know if this is in fact true and I think we need to gather data and talk about it. It could be that the courage it takes to transition exercises the qualities that then vault trans gendered women into leadership roles. Or it could be something innate. If it is, we need to find out and talk about it. Again, I have no opinion, just questions.
Third, bathrooms. And yes, we have to go there. Because it’s an issue that is being used to hurt trans women and divide us and drive away women who might not have the exposure or education or experience to understand the issues. In my view, the number one issue here is safety - the safety of trans women not little girls. And I am not minimizing the threat posed to little girls by predatory pedophiles who might use any means possible to get to them. But the number of men who might put on a dress to sneak into a "Girls Room" is most likely miniscule compared to the number of trans women who are sexually assaulted and beaten up and even killed when they are forced to use the "Boys Room."
So my suggestion here is that we talk about how we can refocus this issue on safety - which is something a much greater number of cis women in particular can understand and school boards and institutions in general might accept.
And that we start asking for locked, single occupancy facilities on every floor of public schools and institutions for anyone who feels unsafe going to a "Girls Room" or a "Boys Room" be it a trans person or any other LGBQ person.
Which brings us back to J.K. Rowling and her concerns about bathrooms and dressing rooms in particular. As she acknowledged in the essay she published last week that detailed her suffering in her first marriage, she is afraid of the idea of men entering the safe space of a dressing room by masquerading as trans women. I understand the fears of anyone who has been assaulted. But I would ask this. Is it possible that her fears are being co-opted by the idea that “expanding your rights decreases my rights”?
We know this pernicious idea. It was trotted out to limit the rights of people of color – they’re not fully human, they’re foreign, and most importantly, they’ll take our jobs. It was trotted out to limit the rights of gay people – if they can marry, what does marriage mean? It’s still being used to limit the rights of women – if they’re allowed to vote or own property or go to school or run corporations or lead countries, what’s left for men? And it’s being used to limit the rights of trans folks – if they’re allowed in bathrooms and dressing rooms we’ll lose our last safe space.
These fears are partly due to lingering prejudices against anything LGBTQ and is even said to sometimes influence decisions to transition. It may feel safer to transition than to come out as gay. Having been sexually assaulted or otherwise humiliated and hurt, perhaps it feels safer to be a man than a woman. So we definitely have to work on expanding acceptance both legally and humanistically.
And we can’t be afraid of talking about where there are real differences. There may be physical differences – hormonal, chromosomal, morphological – that should lead us to thoughtful discussions of solutions that are inclusive. No one wants the unfair ghettoization of “separate but equal” but real differences need to be respected for everyone’s benefit.
But the idea that giving equal rights to trans women – to have a safe space to try on clothes or go to the bathroom – will somehow make life unsafe for “real” women has to be upended. There are lots of solutions here, including making sure there are locked, single-use facilities as mentioned above. We don’t have to be held captive by a Boy-Girl paradigm. We can enlarge the world, especially if all it means is a few more doors and a little more plumbing, i.e. kind of what it takes to change your sex…
I’m joking, of course. It’s not easy to change your sex, especially in an unforgiving world. Think about the courage it takes. A trans woman only undertakes a transition because she identifies to the roots of her soul with what cis gendered women often take for granted and she can be an extraordinary ally in our common fight to make this a gender neutral society, with equal rights for all.
Bottom line, trans gendered women and cis gendered women are sisters and need to support one another. So I urge us all to take a deep breath and stop attacking one another and unite to research and think about these and other questions instead of using them to divide us.
In other words, Accio! (another Harry Potter charm) I summon all of us to work together!