J.K Rowling and the Two Way Street of Free Speech
She has the right to voice her bigotry and those who disagree have the right to voice their criticism. Here’s why the former does not need protection from the latter.
The news that a Perth book shop has banned J.K Rowling’s novels in light of her transphobic remarks has been shared all over my newsfeed. Many acquaintances argued that, despite not agreeing with Rowling’s views, censorship is not the way forward. The general consensus was that no book should be banned as that’s a slippery sloop into totalitarianism and an infringement on free speech.
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” — Oscar Wilde
My knee-jerk reaction was also disapproval. My disdain for censorship triumphed over my disdain for an author. I’ve read enough dystopian novels to know censoring books is bad.
Except none of that was actually happening in the case of Rowling’s Troubled Blood. The world isn’t going all Fahrenheit 451 on controversial writers. The government has not banned this book. Rowling is not in legal trouble due to this book, nor her beliefs. It’s unlikely that she’s going to go bankrupt over being cancelled. All this means is that a company has made a decision not to display her work in its stores and many individuals are choosing not to buy it.
And they have every right to do that. Free speech does not make you immune to criticism. It also does not entitle you to unconditional promotion. Rowling is not short on fame, money, and literary credentials from her previous work. She is one of the richest living authors.
There are countless talented, but less-known authors who deserve to have their work advertised by bookstores and websites. These authors don’t have fame and millions to fall back on if they don’t get sales. A company choosing not to spotlight or sell an author’s work is not a violation of their human rights. No one is morally obligated to buy your work. Promotion and success are never guaranteed when you publish your art.
Something that will remain is J.K Rowling’s platform. Whether it’s founded on her past literary successes or her current controversial statements, her massive platform isn’t going anywhere. Whatever she says has the power to influence masses of people. In fact, due to the controversy she has stirred up in recent months, many who agree with her statements will be more likely to buy her book. Also, the countless news sources covering this topic are still advertising her new book with added mystique: is Troubled Blood a reflection of Rowling’s transphobic views? Read it and find out.
Although the narrative of a crossdressing, burqa-wearing male serial killer has received accusations of transphobia and racism, trying to gage an author’s morals by the fiction they write is a murky area. In this case, the author’s real life views may add a sinister layer to this fictional plotline, but if Rowling is transphobic, it’s her real-life views that are the problem.
With her huge platform as famous author, whatever Rowling says is powerful. It reaches millions, and prior to this controversy, she was the childhood hero of many who grew up in the last two-and-a-half decades. Her fans trusted her and looked up to her. Many still do. Being such a credible, influential figure comes with responsibility. Her followers who trust her may take her opinions as objective truths. Her anti-trans tirades have a bigger social impact than the average person ranting on social media.
Science vs Feelings
Despite this, she still has the right to share her opinions. J.K Rowling’s understanding of gender identity is, at the very least, biased against transgender individuals. She is not trans. She is not a doctor or a psychologist. She is not a professional and shouldn’t be taken as one where trans rights are concerned. Being uneducated on something that does not affect your own life is not a crime in itself. But spreading the narrative that trans people are a threat to the well-being of cis women further endangers trans lives.
She has blew the topic of trans people in sex-segregated spaces out of proportion to make out all trans women are predatory men. She does not view transwomen as women.
She implied that doctors who accommodate trans people in medically transitioning are coercing children (particularly autistics who are assigned-female-at-birth) into mutilating their bodies. Meanwhile, she liked a tweet opposing the ban of conversion therapy for transgender people.
There are so many logical fallacies in her arguments. She will exaggerate minor, if not hypothetical, scenarios, make blanket statements, and ignore facts that don’t fit her theme. This way in which Rowling frames her concern with transgenderism makes it hard to believe she is coming from a place of compassion.
For example, she has very little to say on the topic of trans people being more likely to be victims of sexual assault rather than a perpetrator. She assumes every transwoman is on a mission to harass those poor cis women in public toilets and changing rooms, therefore, harassing transwomen for existing is the way forward.
It is possible to to care about the well-being of one demographic without degrading another. A person’s ability to be a rapist or be raped is not dependent on them being male or female or trans or cis. Transwomen are not the problem. Rapists are. Scapegoating transwomen as inherent sex offenders jeopardises their rights by creating a sense of otherness and superficial womanhood. This does nothing to protect cis women either.
Issues such as detransitioning and the appropriate support for transgender children should be talked about. However, the intention seems to be spreading moral panic rather than wanting to help. Her essays and tweets suggest that, because being transgender is nuanced, not widely understood, newly acknowledged by feminists, and different for each individual, it is harmful.
Death of the Author?
Minorities do not owe their support to those who do not tolerate their existence.
Free speech goes two ways. Free speech means you have the right to state your opinion without legal repercussions. It doesn’t mean that no one else can disagree with you. Those who disagree with JK Rowling are not putting her in any danger.
In contrast, as one of the most successful authors of the century, Rowling spreading her personal opinions as facts has the influence to endanger transgender people. At the very least, trans people and allies should be allowed to speak out against her prejudiced remarks without being shamed for “silencing” such a privileged figure. If you wish to justify Rowling’s statements with the excuse of free speech, you should have no problem with anyone using their free speech to disagree.
Even if the backlash over Rowling’s statements damage the sales for her new book, she will still have the privilege of being able to cry in her mansion. This woman does not need protection from online “trolls” whose harassment consists of standing up for transgender rights. Being upset or voicing disagreement with someone else’s perspective does not make you a soft snowflake that wants to burn everything triggering. Free speech should mean free discussion and the right to call out misinformation and bigotry for what it is.