JK Rowling’s tweet arrived at the perfect moment. The verdict in the Maya Forstater case was still an open wound, but it hardly had time to hurt, let alone fester, before Rowling intervened and came down decisively on the side of reason and compassion and women.
Rowling is powerful and uses her power carefully. She knows that this is a divisive debate. She knows the kinds of letters she’s going to be receiving from distraught fans and the kinds of arguments she’s going to be having with friends.
I get frustrated with big celebrity names who allow this argument to continue without taking a stand for reason, especially those who have no infrastructure above them applying pressure to keep quiet. But Rowling chose the right thing to say at exactly the right time.
It was a Christmas miracle!
She is so powerful, and so feared by trans rights activists for the resonance her work carries across several generations, that it only took one tweet for a cancellation to be attempted. One tweet! And her message could not have been more measured or compassionate or mundane.
Read her statement again. Where is the bigotry hiding? Is it in the claim that sex is real? Is it in standing with a woman who was fired for arguing as much? Is it the reference to Kathleen Stock’s Medium piece ? Why ? What’s wrong with it?
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong with any of it.
The response to Rowling’s statement demonstrates what women with less power, but just as much compassion and sense, have been trying to tell us for a number of years. Namely, that gender ideology is bad for women. That it erases them and insults them and endangers them, and when they dare to discuss this issue—and ONLY this issue—they are subject to disproportionately severe penalties. Maya Forstater lost her job, remember.
No, they must only speak of trans issues, if they must speak of them at all, in an adulatory, soothing, non-confrontational manner. “Just be kind!” is about all that can be uttered without drawing fire, the kind of fire that destroys careers and friendships, and attracts the attention of ideologically captured authorities.
But the response to the Rowling tweet also emphasises something Posie Parker, Meghan Murphy, Claire Graham, Julie Bindel, Helen Steel, Linda Bellos—in other words, women from across the political spectrum—have all been shouting about.
Rowling chose her words carefully. The first four sentences are almost an apology for speaking out at all, because she knows how her support for Maya will be received. She front loads the statement with mollifying phrases to protect her central point, which is inarguable.
But as these women know, and the response to the tweet proves, it’s never enough. Women are to be colonised, erased, silenced and put at risk, and if they protest in any way, even in the most careful and civil terms, they are putting their faces to a blowtorch.
The current fashion amongst celebrities who like being invited to parties is to dismiss and deride the women who dare step up. Men like Jon Ronson, Jolyon Maugham, Michael Cashman and Owen Jones, and women like Dawn Butler, Mhairi Black and Alice Roberts, the Professor of Public Engagement in Science who blocks everyone, have all been disappointing. In fact, it has been a devastating lesson in the credulity of public figures. A ‘Brass Eye’ episode that made itself. It’s as if half of polite society announced they had bought shares in a Nigerian goldmine and anyone who questioned the wisdom of the move was in league with Nazis.
They must have got a lot of pleasure from the Maya verdict. Establishment approval! You don’t get more ‘right side of history’ than that. But thanks to Rowling using her celebrity so expertly and generously, that pleasure was short-lived, and millions of women who can’t afford the high price of entering this fight will be grateful to her forever.
The most ironic thing about trans activists is that they are depending on women to act according to their gender 'role'; to be nice, to budge up, to quietly accept the destruction of their sports, their safe spaces and even the language they use to describe themselves.
But the women I support reject these assumptions. They are true gender non-conformists. They are argumentative, passionate and loud. And they know that if they give an inch, men will take a mile.
So if 2020 is the year you decide to step in to this debate, to risk the blowtorch to the face, remember the lessons of the Rowling tweet.
If no amount of capitulation is enough, why capitulate at all? Stand firm, speak out and let's begin the process of winning back what has already been lost.