Over the weekend, JK Rowling lured trans activists and allies into defending the desire of rapists to be referred to as "she."
Brilliant to expose this—Rowling surely knew this was exactly how activists would react—but grim to watch it play out. There's a reason why trans campaigners across the Western world have bent over backwards to avoid public scrutiny. Their agenda—including putting male rapists in women's prisons—isn't popular and their tactics are ugly, too. The biggest drivers of public opposition to the trans agenda have always been trans activists themselves—their insane claims and demands, and their tantrums when they don't get their way. The average person just hasn't read anywhere near enough queer theory to prevent them from recognizing what's right in front of their eyes.
If you're a self-identified progressive struggling to defend rapists against misgendering, you know you can sit this one out, right? You don't have to hop on Twitter and blast your solidarity with the trans community. You can say: I disagree with Rowling on a lot but she's got a point. Or you don't have to say anything at all. You can carve out a place to think quietly about what you're being asked to support and whether you actually support it.
Watching fellow progressives defend rapists' desire to self-identify as women and into women's prisons is a good opportunity to ask yourself some tough questions.
What would it take for you to say: This movement isn’t what I thought it was? Or even: 'This one thing has gone too far and is causing harm to the cause itself or the people it purports to serve or is harming other causes I care about.'
Think about it.
Take seriously your responsibility to understand what you support. Think about where you draw the line and what would cause you to withdraw your support from this movement. Think about how you’d know if you’d drawn that line in the wrong place.
If you're wondering how you got here—where you're wondering how to defend the gender identity of male rapists while still sounding like the good guy—take a look at how you decide what causes to support.
Consider what's been asked of you, as a trans ally, and whether it's responsible to give in to these demands. No worthy cause asks you to close your eyes and let someone else tell you what you see.
Asking questions; picking and choosing what you support based on evidence and reason, not based on your identity as an ally... these are the basics. Have you ever felt the expectation, as a trans ally, not to ask questions? Have you felt pressured to support something you don’t understand? Have you ever been told you might not be capable of understanding, but that doesn’t absolve your responsibility to be a supportive ally? Have you been told that X is supposed to make you uncomfortable and that your discomfort is a sign that you need to challenge yourself and grow, not a sign you should step back and ask questions? Has anybody ever told you that if you were a better ally, you’d understand why X is necessary and why it’s offensive to question X? Have you ever found yourself resorting to chanting mantras (‘TRANSWOMEN ARE WOMEN,’ anybody?) to shut down the uncomfortable feelings that arise when you try to think an issue through?
Whatever drew you to trans activism, I'm guessing you didn't sign up for this. It's OK to say so. It's not normal to feel like you can't protest or demur when a movement you otherwise support goes way too far.
Whatever you do, don't outsource your judgment to others who have their own motivations and blind spots. Don't make a virtue of handing off responsibility in that way. And don't deceive yourself. You can't discharge responsibility that easily—you can only pretend to. On some level, you know this. Isn't that why you're furious that JK Rowling even brought this up? That she threw what you're supporting in your face, so that you had to look at it clearly and say yes or no?
Look, it’s tempting not to think our thoughts all the way through to the end. Then we can cast ourselves as good progressives, driven by kindness and acceptance in a simple battle between right and wrong.
But down that dark and twisting road, out of sight, out of mind, people live with the consequences of our unthought-out arguments: women imprisoned with violent males, women who've been victimized.
If you really support this agenda, if you really support male rapists in women’s prisons, male rapists being recognized as women, at least have the courage to look at the consequences and say yes, I support that, rather than attacking the one who says: look.