Internalized Transphobia: Who’s Afraid of Fucking J.K. Rowling?

You’ll get the connection if you read—I hope!

I use to watch The Jerry Springer Show a lot as a little kid. It was always on during the day and some years I spent a lot of time at home from school because I was “sick.” I also watched the less dramatic talk shows, but I mostly remember the chairs being thrown, along with punches, and big bald bouncers restraining guests after some man found out their partner “use to be a man!” I also really liked The Silence of the Lambs — which my dad let me watch. I was six when it came out and we had it on VHS. I liked Hannibal Lecter, he was creepy but erudite. But god knows what I internalized from watching Buffalo Bill — though I didn’t really understand what that was about until I was a little older.

Jump forward 25-some-odd-years to Monday, and I logged onto the National Post’s website for some reason or other — looking for election information. Canada has two “prestigious” print papers, the National Post and The Globe and Mail, they’re both conservative. At the top of the Post’s webpage was an article by Jordan Peterson. The image showed a little girl crying in a classroom by herself. The article was titled something to the effect of “Gender Ideology Has No Place in Schools!” The summary declared that a six-year-old girl was told by her Ottawa teacher that girls and boys were imaginary concepts and she was confused. Poor thing. Of course, this is conservative propaganda; the image alone was ridiculous and designed to evoke a biased response in the reader. Of course this is not what is taught in Ontario classrooms, and in fact, not a reflection of gender theory. Rather, “gender ideology” has become a conservative lightning rod in Canada and Europe. It’s hard not to see articles like this for what they are, a sustained attack on the validity of trans people, as we are the embodiment of what these attacks seek to invalidate — we are the magi of “gender ideology.”

Unfortunately there was another incident in short succession which also got me thinking about transphobia and its ubiquity in our society. Yesterday, it was running about Twitter that someone from The Advocate had finally caught J.K. Rowling following a major UK TERF — there have been previous flirtations. However, the last time this happened Rowling’s PR person said she had had a “middle-aged moment” and her thumb slipped onto an errant like. This time they simply commented that Rowling followed lots of people she found “intellectually stimulating.” Now, I got on the Harry Potter wagon a little late, I was maybe 16, but I loved those novels — and at least two of the films. To my mind, these last two current examples of transphobia are worse than Jerry Springer or 90s film representations of the transsexual psycho—you know the ones that make a cannibal seem somehow less insane. When I was seven years-old I knew that Jerry Springer was trash. Sure, it wasn’t a good introduction to being trans, and it probably created a lot of internalized self-hatred that delayed my coming out. However, the context of the show was such that you could at least rationalize it away as trashy TV bullshit — even to a kid. Luckily the 20th-century cinematic obsession with the psycho-killer transsexual seems to be fading—fingers crossed. However, Rowling and the front page of the national news is something else. Both of these platforms are cultural institutions; and sadly, they are not unique in their transphobia.

To borrow from feminist — and trans advocate — Sara Ahmed, trans people are constantly being hammered; hammered by transphobia. Cis people might open the National Post or the UK’s Guardian and think that calls from TERFs and incensed psychology professors to silence trans activists who are calling for TERF/Transphobes to be deplatformed as reasonable — surely we should consider these arguments, trans people must hate free speech. But these people don’t see the hammering away, the constant transphobia, the constant demand to justify our existence. Public discourses that demand one participant to justify their existence and validity to the other isn’t free speech, it’s a discourse that seeks to eliminate a minority group, to delegitimize them. But that’s not clear to many well-meaning bystanders, they don’t see the hammering. This is sadly true also of academics and journalists who are giving space to this hatred.

It’s hard to form the mental armour needed to resist internalizing all of this hate. There are definitely chinks in my armour. Maybe I need to just never go on social media, or read the news, or watch tv, or participate in any form of modern digital life — but of course, that’s impossible.

I’m trans, a grad student in gender studies, and a legal researcher.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store