JK Rowling

Jun 28, 2020 | Opinion | 0 comments

Seven claims JK Rowling got wrong in her recent essay

JK Rowling

Written by Emily Linehan

In OpinionOpinion

JK Rowling’s recent ill-informed essay suggests that transphobia may be going mainstream. Here we fact-check seven of her most dangerous statements.

10min Read

Written by Emily Linehan

In OpinionOpinion

JK Rowling’s recent ill-informed essay suggests that transphobia may be going mainstream. Here we fact-check seven of her most dangerous statements.

10min Read

JK Rowling’s recent essay posted on her website sent the media into a frenzy. Her controversial 3,600 words have provided plentiful headlines for newspapers, tabloids, and blogs alike. Some publications report on her transphobic views, some agree with her intolerant sentiments and some focussed on her domestic abuse survivor status. It seems her essay has spiralled many interpretations from the media.

The acclaimed author assures her devoted readers that she has done “extensive research” on the topic of gender identity and the transgender community. Yet, through my own extensive research, I have found her research could not possibly be extensive enough since her beliefs are so misinformed. This piece will be fact-checking the shocking claims Rowling has made and exposing how inaccurate her statements really are.

1. “…Magdalen [Berns] was a great believer in the importance of biological sex, and didn’t believe lesbians should be called bigots for not dating trans women with penises”

JK Rowling followed Magdalen Berns on Twitter back in 2019; this is when her readers started to question her views on trans rights. In her essay, she describes this woman as an “immensely brave young feminist” who has been unfairly targeted by trans activists for believing that lesbians shouldn’t be labelled as bigots for not being attracted to a trans woman with a penis.

But this is an over-simplification of the many issues trans activists have with Bern’s beliefs. In a series of YouTube vlogs that Bern produced, she made very blatantly anti-trans statements such as likening trans women to “blackface actors” and describing them as “men who get sexual kicks from being treated like women”. It is inexplicable as to why Rowling doesn’t see how people can be offended by Bern’s statements.

2. “I’m concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning”

Detransition rates in the UK are extremely low, to be precise, 0.47% of trans patients, according to an analysis of NHS patient assessments. In the study, the researchers found that in a group of 3398 patients, only 16 people had expressed regret in their transition. The study states that this dissatisfaction was usually attributed to “social difficulties rather than changes in gender identity or physical complications”. Only three of the 16 patients continued with their detransition long-term.

3. “The UK has experienced a 4400% increase in girls being referred for transitioning treatment”

The Telegraph reported in 2018 that “the number of girls being given gender treatment has risen from 40 in 2009-10 to 1,806 in 2017-18.”   This is a large percentage increase but not a large number when you consider the stigma around the transgender community is not as prominent as it was ten years ago.

Polly Carmichael, a psychologist, and head of the UK’s only gender identity clinic agrees that this rise in patients is most likely the result of greater awareness of gender identity in the public sphere.

The common claim by gender critics that the assessments for transitioning treatment is in any way ‘fast-tracked’ is simply unfounded as gender identity clinics are constantly criticised for their lengthy waiting times (approx. two-three years in the UK) and drawn-out assessment periods before receiving hormone therapy.

4. The Lisa Littman Study

JK Rowling shows support for a study done by Lisa Littman, a researcher in Brown University, who published a study so controversial that it had to be taken down and re-reviewed. After reading the study myself, I absolutely understand the outrage it received. Littman suggests that the use of social media and the influence of a young person’s friend group can contribute to someone developing gender dysphoria. Rowling mentions the backlash Littman received for this flawed conclusion, “Nobody, the activists insisted, could ever be persuaded into being trans”.

And that statement still stays true, as Littman’s study certainly does not prove otherwise. This study is entirely unreliable.

Let’s start with her method. She used surveys to collect her data which included 90 multiple choice and open-ended questions. These surveys were placed on gender critical websites such as ‘4thwavenow’, ‘transgendertrend’, and ‘youthtranscriticalprofessionals’ for parents of trans children to answer, not the children who were experiencing gender dysphoria themselves. Furthermore, she also encourages these websites and other participants to share the survey to “any individuals or communities that they thought might include eligible participants”. Her sample group is extremely biased, and therefore, any data she collected will be biased also.

Among the many results she produces from her collection of 256 parents, the one statistic that interested me most was that nearly 50% of the parents’ children had tried to isolate themselves from their families – not surprising considering the websites these parents were visiting. In her conclusion, Littman admits that her results may be skewed because of “parent-child conflict”. She also concedes that “more research that includes data collection from AYAs, parents, clinicians and third-party informants is needed to further explore the roles of social influence”.

5. “A man who intends to have no surgery and take no hormones may now secure himself a Gender Recognition Certificate and be a woman in the sight of the law.”

These are the Gender Recognition Certificate Requirements according to GOV.UK:

“You must be at least 18 years old, diagnosed with gender dysphoria and lived in your preferred gender for a minimum of 2 years. Proof of this must be provided in the form of a passport, driving licence, payslips, utility bills and/or any other official documents.”

This seems an awful lot of hard work for a rapist to undertake just to enter public bathrooms of women.

On a serious note, nearly all transgender people would appreciate immensely to receive hormone therapy as soon as they discover their true gender identity. Unfortunately, the waiting time for this treatment is years long meaning it is near impossible to take hormones at the beginning of a person’s transition. Gender certificates and deed polls are not only important documents to help alleviate dysphoria and to help trans people integrate easier into society as their preferred gender, it also protects their rights in workplaces and public spaces.

6. “Marcus Evans stated that claims that children will kill themselves if not permitted to transition do not ‘align substantially with any robust data or studies in this area.”

Marcus Evans is a former psychotherapist in Tavistock who resigned from the practice after he accused the service of having an “overvalued belief in” the expertise of its Gender Identity Development Service.

In 2020, the website Quillette published a letter written by Evans, discussing why he left the clinic. It is in this piece that Rowling draws the above quote from, that children with gender dysphoria committing suicide if not granted treatment does not “align substantially with any robust data or studies in this area”.

Since he could not find any robust data to support this claim, I have found some for him.

According to the Trans Mental Health Survey 2012, in a sample group of 889, 48% of trans people in Britain have attempted suicide at least once and 84% have had suicidal thoughts. 63% of 206 participants felt that they harmed themselves more before they transitioned, with only 3% harming themselves more after transitioning. And in a sample group of 353, most participants who had transitioned felt that their mental health was better after doing so (74%), compared to only 5% who felt it had worsened which they stated that their reasons for their mental health decline was “not directly related” to transitioning.

In a study done in Ontario, Canada, they found that “across Europe, Canada, and the United States, 22–43 % of transgender people report a history of suicide attempts.” They also found that “social support, reduced transphobia, and having any personal identification documents changed to an appropriate sex designation were associated with large relative and absolute reductions in suicide risk, as was completing a medical transition through hormones and/or surgeries”.

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, reported that suicidal ideation was “nearly twice as high for transgender youth compared with non-transgender youth”.

These are only some of the studies available that all agree transgender people are at a higher risk of suicide when not provided with gender-affirming treatment. Is this enough evidence for you, Evans?

7. “…studies have consistently shown that between 60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria.”

This statistic is based on the twelve studies that have been done on what is called ‘desistance’ research which sets out to question whether children with gender dysphoria can ‘desist’ from their debilitating feelings as they age.

The two prominent desistance research studies I will discuss are: Drummond’s study in 2008 and Steensema’s in 2011.

Both studies commit similar offences which lead to such ludicrous results, like Drummond’s finding that only 12% of their sample group “were judged to have GID or gender dysphoria” and Steensema’s stating that 45% of their participants ‘desisted’ in gender dysphoria.

Their first mistake was including non-binary/non-conforming children in their study. The question they had set out to answer was whether dysphoric children will follow through with their treatment at the gender clinic on a long-term basis. But most non-binary people do not need intervening treatment from a clinic when they are re-integrating themselves into society as agender. The Drummond study even states that “It is conceivable that the childhood criteria for Gender Identity Dysphoria may ‘scoop in’ girls who are relatively low risk for adolescent/adult gender dysphoria that revolves so much around somatic indicators”.

They also both make unfounded presumptions which heavily skew their results. They include people who have not responded back to them in their long-term follow-up in their percentages of people who have ‘desisted’ from gender dysphoria. Steensema’s study states that “[…] 45.3% did not reapply for treatment at the Gender Identity Clinic during adolescence […] we assumed that their gender dysphoric feelings had desisted”.

Another error made was making their long-term check-in too short, with the participants in Drummond’s study being in the range of 15-36 years old when asked about their dysphoria again. This is not lengthy enough considering the “the median age at which trans people first visited their GP to discuss their gender dysphoria […] is currently 42”.

And lastly, they do not consider the outside factors that can influence someone from no longer attending a gender dysphoric clinic. These factors can include societal pressure, familial pressure, financial issues or issues with the clinic itself. Even Drummond states that “it is beyond the scope of this report to describe the types of therapies […] received between the assessment in childhood and follow-up”.

JK Rowling’s statements are not only inaccurate but harmful to the Trans movement. She has now introduced TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) ideas into the mainstream media and more people may be converted to these bigoted beliefs due to the incorrect evidence that Rowling has presented. The tweets of Graham Linehan, who has recently been banned from the platform, are another example of transphobia going mainstream.

Now, more than ever, it is important to have your viewpoints supported by unbiased research and to form your beliefs with compassion and consideration of those whom it might impact. Transphobia has no place in our society.

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