Why Accepting Trans Identity Will Not Erase Your Own
And why it is time to rethink how you discuss, describe, and document your own identity.
Everyone has a right to voice their opinions, but we must challenge those who refuse to accept the lived realities of other people and those who falsely voice their opinions as fact. J.K. Rowling has long held and voiced opinions that are harmful to trans identities. In a recent tweet, she expressed her belief that the trans-inclusive phrase “people who menstruate” is laughable. In subsequent tweets, she claims that in accepting trans identities, the differences in her own lived reality as a cisgender woman will be erased.
Refusing to rewrite the ways in which we describe and discuss our own identities is exclusionary and separatist. As we learn from each other, we must evolve our language to be inclusive of every human identity. And we must better articulate the differences that have shaped our individual lives in ways that do not suppress and deny others of their lived realities and identities.
The human experience does not come with a manual; it is only from each other that we can learn of the full spectrum of human identity. Meanings we once accepted as universal truth are unequivocally subject to change as we expand our understanding of what it means to be human for everyone.
We can expand the range of identities without erasing the ones that exist.
When I first accepted my queer identity as a 13-year old, I simultaneously began preparing to declare my truth to my mother. I imagined a thousand ways the conversations would flow, the rhetoric my mother would use to convince me that I was mistaken about my identity. I spent years empathizing with her, preparing myself for the arguments she would make to deny and discredit my reality.
I imagined the experiences she’d had, or rather the experiences she hadn’t had, which would have carved space in her mind for the introspection needed to accept new truths about human identity.
It is easy to dismiss someone for not acknowledging and accepting your lived reality, but when that person holds space in your heart, empathy can help initiate a nuanced discussion towards acceptance.
So when I saw Rowling, yet again, attack transgender identity, I quelled my rage (with an impulsive tweet—sorry) and began trying to understand why.
The Construct of Identity
Our reality is as much a construct as the one Rowling created in her magical world. The difference is that our constructed reality is based on an understanding of human identity that is thousands of years old.
The concept of sex is very much a part of that construct — the dichotomy she uses to make her case is abrasive to trans identities. It aims to reduce human identity to anatomy.
Sex exists on a biological spectrum, while gender exists on a sociological spectrum. We have interwoven our societal understandings of sex and gender in ways we cannot separate easily; therefore, we cannot reduce any human identity to either individually. The anatomy we are born with can define neither role of sex nor gender in these concepts, for our societal and cultural expectations of sex and gender transcend anatomy to encompass perceptions of behavior and appearance.
How you initially perceive a person’s identity is an assumption of reality. Lived reality is how people identify themselves, choose to express their identity, and have that identity expression seen by others. The world must see us as we see ourselves. You cannot debate someone else’s lived reality because it requires you to rewrite your own understanding of identity.
Expanding our concept of sex does not remove, to Rowling’s words, “the ability of many [people] to meaningfully discuss their lives.” Contrary to Rowling’s opinion, I do believe it is hateful to say so because, in doing so, you are perpetuating an outdated concept that is exclusionary to the lived reality of trans people.
If sex is no longer real, it does not erase the lived reality of cisgender women globally, as she claims it does in her tweet. It requires us, as humans, to find new words to better articulate, document, and describe our experiences relative to these new understandings of identity. Menstruation does not solely define women, in the same way that gestation does not solely define mothers.
As we continue to learn from each other and expand the spectrum of human identity, we must evolve our language to reflect new truths and allow us all to express our lived realities, both relative to each other, and individually.
We are empathetic beings capable of comprehending meaning beyond words, and we can create new words to convey new understandings. Rowling is a writer, a great one. She should know this; she created plenty of new words to help us understand her world. I urge her to try understanding ours better.
Express Yourself Without Hate
It is okay to be uncomfortable when new truths challenge and question your lived reality. It is not okay to harm other people in sharing your discomfort.
I do not believe Rowling wishes for the erasure of trans and queer people. Still, she contributes to erasure by perpetuating harmful opinions and refusing to examine her own biases against truly accepting trans identity.
It is possible to believe, as Rowling clearly does, that “my life has been shaped by being female.” But Rowling has gone far beyond that.
You do not need to attack trans identities to express your own, or impose your own understanding of an identity on others.
To J.K. Rowling, and those likeminded,
Please ask yourself,
Why do you feel accepting new identities takes away from your lived reality?
How might you update the terms you use to identify and discuss your life in ways that are inclusive, yet reflective of the differences you believe shaped your life?
It may be uncomfortable to share experiences you believe are exclusive to your gender identity, but while others may now relate to some facets of the identity you share, how and why does this take away from the experiences that differ?
Can you identify where your frustration or anger originate? Might they come from a place of not being understood? Is it possible you are clinging to your ideas of reality because it is easier than having to examine your reality from a new perspective? Easier than searching for a new way to articulate the differences in your lived reality?
I am a cisgender queer man — I cannot speak to the lived reality of trans and genderqueer people, nor cisgender women. However, I can share that I have felt the weight of the world, challenging my identity and my right to exist in it.
The burden to educate and empathize with challengers must not fall upon those challenged. We should never have to explain the validity of our identities to anyone. I often refrain from asking questions directly and seek information in text to reduce this burden. I acknowledge that I may be wrong in my views, and invite the discussion so that I may correct those views.
I am writing as an ally, sharing the perspective I have gained from listening to trans people in my life and trans people who share their stories publicly. I am sure I do not capture the full reality of trans identity — I will never fully know this lived reality, but I am ready to have the conversations that sharpen my perception of trans identity.
One person from the queer community cannot speak to or for all experiences and realities of the queer community.
On this note, I urge you to read, follow, and listen to transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people who choose to share their stories so that you may understand better, and help others understand their lived realities.
Resources & Further
- An extensive list of resources and support for trans people is available on the National Center for Transgender Equality website.
- Learn: “A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth”
is available from the Trevor Project.
- Watch: DISCLOSURE is “an unprecedented, eye-opening look at transgender depictions in film and television…” which debuts on Netflix June 19th.
- Listen: Unlocking Us Podcast episode, “Brené Brown with Laverne Cox on
Transgender Representation, Advocacy + the Power of Love”
- Follow: “16 LGBTQ Activists, Artists, & Storytellers To Follow” via Bustle.
- Read: Them is a publication that chronicles the stories of queer people.
- The Los Angeles LGBT Center is hosting a virtual Trans Pride celebration on June 19th and 20th with interviews, discussions, and workshops.
- Additional upcoming virtual Pride events in 2020.
Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson voiced their support for trans identities.
As I completed writing this piece, J.K. Rowling issued a statement.
I’ll refer you to this twitter thread and share a few thoughts below.
- She claims to have been seeking a nuanced conversation, but I do not believe that. Making an insensitive mockery of trans identity does not show one is seeking a discussion.
- Citing the violence of cis men as a tool to suppress and reject trans identity and equality is harmful, ignorant, and abusive. Ultimately, this violent narrative perpetuates the myth that trans people are perverse.
- I still believe she fears accepting trans women as women, will somehow erase her own lived reality as a cis woman. One that, as she shares, has been shaped by the trauma, abuse, and violence she faced as a woman, as well as the shared trauma and oppression of cis women throughout history.
- The accepted term for a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth is cisgender. Her insistence on using the word “biological” is both disrespectful and separatist. It is not the perspective of someone who supports and accepts trans identity, as she claims she does.