A Letter to Jo

Dear Jo

Firstly, may I say how sorry I was to hear about the sexual assault you suffered. It must be difficult to deal with the emotions that keep resurfacing, the inevitable and uncontrollable fear in certain situations. No one wants to suffer like that.

It must be draining to continually see people, or certain groups of people, as a threat. Our deep human instincts are primed to judge quickly on appearance and, secondly, behaviour. Having suffered like you did, it must be difficult to not instinctively see all men as threats.

Early on in my transition, I took great care in my appearance, working hard to make sure that I didn’t stand out. I, too, was afraid. Violence against trans people was, and remains, widespread. I didn’t, and don’t, want to be another statistic. It was easy to view every man as a possible assailant. But that is a draining way to view the world.

There are still doors in my soul that I hesitate to pass: the fear of losing everything should I transition – job, friends, family, home; the decision to try giving my children a living female parent rather than a dead male one, on the basis that I could revisit the railway bridge if I was wrong; the terror every time I approach a group of young men. Like me, you clearly have your own set of doors which cause you horror.

I’ve come across some of the talks by others who are afraid of trans women. Those talks cover their fears by projection and abuse. Instead of sympathising with the fears that trans women have and the violence that we face, they ridicule us for doing what we have to do to minimise those fears, and twist our motives from ones of self-protection into ones of deception. The reasons for that deception? Either to steal their men, or to perpetrate sexual violence on women. Yet, what if we are not there to deceive? The question is never asked. The assumption is all-pervading.

Trans women come under huge pressure to conform to gender stereotypes – driven by a fear of what might happen if we don’t. We call it “passing”. Some resist, believing that we should not remove one set of constraints to immediately put on another.

The more closely we conform to gender stereotypes, the more likely we are to be classed as deceptive. The less closely we conform, the more likely we are to be dismissed and called men, because we’re “not trying”.

Like you, I gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. Part of the evidence I gave was a piece in the Sun which showed photos of trans women alongside women who weren’t trans, with the challenge to identify the trans women. It was reductive, treating people as objects for entertainment. It was clearly intended as something which wasn’t easy to do, if it was possible in the first place. It played wholly into the “trans people are deceivers” idea. Lord Justice Leveson, in his report, clearly understood this point.

And yet those same women, those afraid of trans women, would have you believe that, despite anything we do, trans women are easily identifiable. They make accusations that the reason we use public facilities is so we can work out some kind of sexual deviance. They mask their fears with powerful lies, powerful because they play and build on others’ fears.

So the narrative builds – you can identify trans women, they may have a penis, they are in there for sexual gratification, you could be the object of their sexual violence – every step sounding plausible and building on previous terrors.

They bring out random pieces of evidence from all over the world, pressing the view that, because one trans person did this, all trans people will do this – an association that we rightly reject for other groups.

They ignore the mass of evidence that counters their view – trans women are the most likely people to be assaulted in public spaces, black trans women even more so.

They dismiss inconvenient evidence, like calling the repeated surveys which reveal high suicidality amongst trans people a weapon.

They inflate statistics, pointing to massive percentage increases in particular things like referral rates, while ignoring that the result is still a very small number.

They don’t mention the long waiting lists to see anyone medical, preferring the myth that people are rushed through the system with medication delivered quickly and uncritically.

They twist the beautiful complexity underpinning our current scientific understanding into a brutal duality, forcing people onto sides, then demean and denounce those they then determine to be on the wrong one.

They analyse their own fears, then project them onto the objects of their hate, finding language which attempts to make those projections acceptable.

I can understand why those fears may trigger something visceral in you, as they do in some other women. And yet their behaviour triggers many visceral fears in trans people, who are then condemned if they act in any way which displays those fears. So I’m sorry that some trans people have sent you verbal abuse, but, like every other group, it doesn’t mean that all trans people are abusers.

I read your essay. Others have spent time deconstructing it. So I won’t other than to say, like so much in this space, it starts with small inaccuracies, which are then used to justify even bigger untruths.

I also read your Harry Potter books, saw the films and the play, all with my children, now in their 20s. I live close to a village where some of the films were shot – a village which now trades mercilessly on that fact. If I was elected to Parliament, I was considering whether to mention that I would have been Harry Potter’s MP.

Your books, like so much successful fiction, demonstrated a belief that love can overcome fear and evil, and that what’s inside is more important than what’s on show. Harry needed to hide who he was from his unaccepting family. It’s not for nothing that some trans people affectionately call those who aren’t trans “muggles”.

It is for that reason that so many are disappointed in what you have recently written. It runs completely counter to those messages. Because people want to believe what you created, the only explanation which makes sense can be that you no longer consider trans people to be people but instead to be deceivers, threats, terrors. And yet your message is uncritically broadcast to the masses with a framing that, once again, associates trans people with sexual violence.

And here I am, once again, writing something that tries to defend the core essence of me. Every single time is another cut across my heart, another blow to my self-esteem. It is draining to see people across our society as threats, twisting words and torturing logic to try to eliminate people like me from public life entirely. It’s like being trapped in a living nightmare with no way out, no way to wake up.

You have roughly a thousand times the reach that I have, and probably a thousand times the resources that I have. However you will have never been fundamentally questioned or disbelieved the way I have been regularly and repeatedly, certainly over the past 20 years, and quite possibly as a child – although those who could confirm that are now all dead.

Our country has a history of passing laws based on fear – the Edict of Expulsion of 1290, the Popery Act of 1698, even the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991. All have to be dismantled as our understanding of equality grows, as we learn again and again to see every human being as a person. I fear we are about to go through a period when it will become legal to, once again, discriminate against trans people, treat us as “not people” but as dangers and fakes – a law masquerading, as all those other laws did, as progress.

The story of how Alice fell down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, where words no longer mean what you think they mean and logic becomes tortuous, is well told. Her journey back out is understood as waking from a dream. Jo, I hope you wake soon from your nightmare, so I can stop living in mine.

Helen

(This letter was written as a response to an essay published on 10 June 2020 by J K Rowling, where she attempts to justify her statements on trans people.)

4 comments

  1. Jessica · · Reply

    Wow, such a powerful response. Thank you

  2. Sarah Ayers · · Reply

    I really hope she reads this and takes time to think about what you have so brilliantly expressed. Much love. Sarah

  3. Gillian Kirk · · Reply

    That’s a superb thing you’ve made here; thank you.

  4. I am a cis woman. J K Rowling does Not speak for me. I am sorry that you needed to write this. In solidarity!

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