JK Rowling is a TERF (but You Can Still Enjoy Harry Potter)

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JK Rowling, who you may know as the author of the theory that wizards don’t need indoor plumbing because they can just shit on the floor and then magic it away, has finally, officially come out as a TERF — aka a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which is literally just an accurate description of what a TERF believes but apparently they think “TERF” is a slur so I will use a less-loaded term for this video: bigoted fuckface.

This all started because of a woman named Maya Forstater, a “tax expert” who worked for a London-based thinktank called the Centre for Global Development (CGD). Forstater is a TERF — excuse me, a bigoted fuckface — you know what, I’m going to just stick with TERF, I’m sorry but it’s easier to say — who tweeted publicly her brilliant ideas like that “male people are not women,” which led CGD to not renew her contract for 2020 because she was openly discriminatory toward transwomen.

She took her case to court, hoping that it would set a precedent that would allow her specific “belief system” (that transwomen are actually men) to be considered protected speech instead of discrimination. She just lost that case, leading other bigoted fuckfaces like Rowling to offer their support for her.

The strange thing is that TERFs present their argument as one that is both scientific and feminist, so you’d think I’d be all about that. I love science! And I love feminism! But it turns out, this is neither. People like Rowling and Forstater fervently believe that the “science” is on their side in the same way that many pseudoscientists do, when in fact they are just blissfully ignorant of the science of sex and gender. Saying “xx=woman and xy=man and you can’t change that” has as much scientific knowledge behind it as saying “If we evolved from monkeys than why are there still monkeys?” Both are statements that might sound reasonable to the average middle schooler but that does not mean they are correct. And both statements present similar problem when actual scientists try to explain the actual science to the people saying these things: the fervent believers will throw their hands in the air, claim it’s too complicated or the data is lying or whatever other excuse they can think of, and continue believing what they believe. Because they do not believe based on what the science says. They came to their belief first, for other reasons, and then attempted to build up science and reason in a way that makes it look like it supports their belief.

If you’re curious, I highly recommend this Scientific American article by NYU neuroscientist Simone N. Sun that breaks down the science of sex into relatively simple terms. For instance, the Y chromosome doesn’t just magically make a male. Instead, a number of different genes need to work in concert at exactly the right time to make the gonads we associate with males, and then other genes, along with hormones and environmental queues can later develop penises, or vaginas, or a lot of body hair, or facial hair, or boobies. 

It falls in line with what we think of as “male” or “female” and “man” and “woman” often enough for us to have averages and a pretty good idea of what sex and gender most people are, but that shorthand simply isn’t enough to account for the diverse array of beautiful human bodies in the world, and it’s anti-scientific to pretend as though it is. Anti-scientific, and, I should add, boring as fuck. It reminds me of God of the Gaps, the idea that throughout human history whenever we ran into something we didn’t understand we’d say that was what God is — making the earth spin, making rainbows appear, spreading diseases. The real cause of those things is more complicated than “god does it” but it’s worth knowing, for the advancement of the human race AND for your personal advancement. It’s boring to stop at what you don’t know. TERS employ a God of the Gender Gaps: oh sure, there are all these people who don’t fit into the neat boxes I learned about in middle school, but let’s just pretend they’re random mistakes, and these other people are just crazy. That way, I can keep my safe, simple understanding intact.

Getting back to Forstater, is it right that she be fired (or, well, her contract not be renewed) because of her anti-scientific beliefs? Not if they were just any anti-scientific beliefs. I, personally, don’t think that a receptionist, for instance, should be fired for believing that evolution is a lie. That’s also an anti-scientific belief but even though it’s wrong (and on a large scale I think it’s dangerous for society) I think people deserve a freedom of belief. In general, people should be allowed to hold wrong beliefs without punishment. But what if that receptionist’s anti-scientific belief is that women are intellectually inferior and should be subservient to men? What if he’s a man, and speaks to women like they’re children? In all other ways he could do his job just fine, but every woman he interacts with is made to feel like less of a human being.

Forstater says that her “belief system” should be tolerated at work like any other belief system, but her beliefs quite literally dehumanize trans people. Research shows that misgendering trans people leads to an increase in depression and suicide. No one can ever force Forstater to understand the science, or even to understand why kindness toward others is important. But if she wants to participate in society, all she needs to do is not go out of her way to misgender the people around her. And I really don’t think that’s asking so much.

And yeah, fuck JK Rowling. This one is easy for me because I never got into Harry Potter and I noticed Rowling sinking into TERFdom ages ago, but I sympathize with those of you who are having a hard time with this. I can even empathize a bit as a fan of Father Ted, the IT Crowd and Black Books. But I can only imagine how it must be for kids who grew up seeing themselves in the story of a child who discovered that who he was on the inside was more important than the cards life had given him. Remember that what you took out of those books and films is separate from what Rowling put in them. Your interpretation is the right one. Now stop giving any money to that bigoted fuckface and go read some Ursula K. Leguinn or NK Jemisin.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. The better reason not to use TERF in place of transphobe is that it is not a synonym for transphobe. It is a subset of transphobe. Not all bigoted fuckfaces are radical feminists.

  2. My son is 9 and lives the Harry Potter series. I think NK Jemisin is a little out of his league till he’s a few years older. Do you have any suggestions of series or authors to suggest to him? Honestly I’m only asking because even at the library they generally recommend the most popular, which isn’t always the best or most inclusive.

    1. That’s an excellent question Josh. I’m going to do some research and put together a list of Potterternatives over at Grounded Parents. Look for it soon!

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