In the wake of JK Rowling’s most recent twitter debacle in which she (again) spread transphobic slander, it is clear that transphobia is still a pervasive force in our society, and yes, in Canada too. While facing backlash from many in the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, Rowling only doubled down in her misinformation and hatred. Lets be clear here, transgender and non-binary people have no obligation to defend the validity of their own lived experience. That is the job of allies to the LGBT+ community.
Even in Canada, the denial of the validity of transgender people’s lived existence remains. Two out of the four leadership candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada want to remove protections for transgender people. The platform of Leslyn Lewis specifically says in no uncertain terms that she would like to repeal Bill C-16, which added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Removing this protection would enable the harassment of trans individuals by allowing them to be misgendered. It would also allow discrimination broadly against trans people in employment, medical services, schooling, and countless other necessary elements of society.
Derek Sloan is much more aggressive in his transphobia. He has appeared on far right talk shows voicing his transphobic views many times along with other conspiracy theories. In a bizarre policy statement, Sloan said that he wanted to “outlaw transgender surgery for children across Canada” as he thought children as young as five were recieving gender affirming surgeries. This is simply not a thing that happens.
Children that young do not undergo any type of surgery related to transitioning. Puberty blockers are prescribed as children undergo puberty to give them more time to grow and understand the direction they would like to take. The WPATH standard of care recommends cross-sex hormones be given at the age of majority (in Canada this is 18 or 19, depending on the province or territory), although it can happen earlier.
This is all in a context of a country which, before European settlers arrived in the land now known as Canada, Indigenous cultures had a variety of conceptions of gender that goes back as far as time itself, according to their traditions. This has been the case throughout the entire world.
So, why is what JK Rowling said, wrong?
In short, there are two main problems: she is missing the division between sex and gender, and she is erasing transgender people’s existence, while claiming that woman’s existence is being erased.
Every major health and scientific organization has made the distinction between sex and gender, and has acknowledged that some individuals may have a sense of gender that does not align with their ‘biological sex’. Despite the use of the phrase ‘biological sex’ to mean binary sex by conservatives, there is a wide variety different genetic, hormonal, and physiological variation within the range of biological sex. And on top of that, there is a wide variety among individuals in the way they experience their ‘psychological gender.’ The Canadian Psychological Association clearly states:
The Canadian Psychological Association affirms that all adolescent and adult persons have the right to define their own gender identity regardless of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role. Moreover, all adolescent and adult persons have the right to free expression of their self-defined gender identity.
The Canadian Psychological Association opposes stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination on the basis of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role, or on the basis of a self-defined gender identity or the expression thereof in exercising all basic human rights. (October 2010)
By denying the validity of being transgender, it is transgender individuals being erased and marginalized, not women, as Rowling claims.
It’s not just the Canadian Psychological Association that support trans people. Similar scientific and health organizations in the USA, UK, United Nations, and the World Health Organization have all moved in the same direction. The science is very clear.
So what’s an ally to the Trans community to do?
We need to support policies that have beneficial outcomes for Trans people. A meta-analysis of 55 studies has definitively informed us that transitioning improves the overall well-being of transgender people.
Parental support and supportive organizations can reduce the likelihood of younger individuals from attempting committing suicide from 57% to 4%.
We need to affirm and support Transgender people wherever possible, and defend the protections put in place with Bill C-16. Transphobia is still a very strong force in Canada, and must be stamped out.