JK Rowling and the Frozen Peaches

JK Rowling is a transphobe. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who has being paying attention, or to the many trans people who tried to tell you.

Does it matter what she thinks? Well, no. Within the confines of your own cranium, you are free to harbour all manner of ideas, some monstrous, some harmless, some ridiculous. For instance, I hate tuna and I hate anyone who would voluntarily put it on a sandwich. I stand by this hatred. I embrace it internally. One the one hand, it serves as a handy rule for dividing the world into good people and bad people. On the other hand, it’s complete nonsense.

Should the government be able to arrest me for thinking that tuna is foul smelling fake chicken that ought to be incinerated on sight? No of course not. Should my employer be permitted to fire me for thinking these things? That would be outrageous.

But what if I just can’t contain my tunaphobia? What if it bubbles up inside me all day long until I feel compelled to share my opinion that everyone who eats tuna is a foul degenerate? What if Karen, at work, who is partial to a tuna and mayonnaise salad, takes exception to this? And what if I ignore her feelings and plough on with my regular tunaphobic workplace rants?

In those circumstances, I might expect my manager to have a quiet word with me. If I persisted with the tuna-bigotry to the point where it made all my colleagues uncomfortable, well then I could expect there to be consequences. At some point, there might even be disciplinary action. And, if I were a contractor, not an employee, would I expect to continue to get more work with that company? Would it avail me to protest about muh freeze peach?

Which brings me to JK Rowling. On Thursday, she tweeted in defence of a woman who lost a legal case against a former employer, who had declined to extend her contract. The woman in question had argued that she had been denied further employment because of her sincerely held belief that trans women are men regardless of what the law, their birth certificates, their driving licenses, their passports or their Gender Recognition Certificates say. She argued that this was a protected philosophical belief and that she should not suffer employment consequences for stating it.

The final tribunal ruling was very clear. The case was not about whether trans women are women. Nor was it about an individual’s right to have an belief on this issue. It was not about the opinion itself, but the expression of that opinion and its potential effect on the workplace. The tribunal ruled that the claimant’s right to express this particular belief was not protected:

‘She will refer to a person by the sex she considers appropriate even if it violates their dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. This approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.’

Fundamentally, this case addressed a familiar issue. It was about the balance between workplace freedom of speech and the potential consequences of that speech. It was only tangentially about trans women.

Yet Rowling either hadn’t read the full ruling or just didn’t care. She tweeted that it was wrong for a woman to be fired for saying that sex was real. Well yes. That sounds awful. But that wasn’t what happened here. To Rowling, that didn’t matter. Here was a golden opportunity to jump into the transgender ‘debate’ with both feet, and to promote two falsehoods:

1. That a woman was fired because she said sex was real.

2. By extension, that trans people are closing down free speech.

It isn’t unreasonable to expect a woman who has tens of millions of fans and a platform that most politicians or religious figures would envy, to consider her words carefully, to weigh up the evidence, to understand that, whether she likes it or not, her voice has the power to wound or to heal.

That she knew all this and weighed in with a dollop of fake news anyway, tells us that, for JK Rowling, taking a stand in defence of a transphobe outweighed any other consideration, including the truth. It’s sad, it’s disappointing, but ask any trans person and they will tell you, it’s not a surprise.

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