"On Saturday morning, I read that the Scottish government is proceeding with its controversial gender recognition plans, which will in effect mean that all a man needs to ‘become a woman’ is to say he’s one. To use a very contemporary word, I was ‘triggered,’" Rowling writes, giving context for the timing of her tweets. "Ground down by the relentless attacks from trans activists on social media, when I was only there to give children feedback about pictures they’d drawn for my book under lockdown, I spent much of Saturday in a very dark place inside my head, as memories of a serious sexual assault I suffered in my twenties recurred on a loop. That assault happened at a time and in a space where I was vulnerable, and a man capitalized on an opportunity. I couldn’t shut out those memories and I was finding it hard to contain my anger and disappointment about the way I believe my government is playing fast and loose with womens and girls’ safety."
In the course of her essay, Rowling says for the first time that she is a victim of sexual assault.
"I’ve been in the public eye now for over 20 years and have never talked publicly about being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor," she writes. "This isn’t because I’m ashamed those things happened to me, but because they’re traumatic to revisit and remember."
Rowling adds that she did not wish to "garner sympathy" with this revelation, but rather to show "solidarity" with women who have similar histories "who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces."
As for transgender women who have been the victims of sexual violence, Rowling writes, "If you could come inside my head and understand what I feel when I read about a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man, you’d find solidarity and kinship. I have a visceral sense of the terror in which those trans women will have spent their last seconds on earth, because I too have known moments of blind fear when I realized that the only thing keeping me alive was the shaky self-restraint of my attacker."
Rowling goes on to say, "I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth."
Rowling also shares that she's "concerned" by the "huge explosion of young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers detransitioning (returning to their original sex)."
The author says that she's read lots of writings by transgender men, noting, "The more of their accounts of gender dysphoria I’ve read, with their insightful descriptions of anxiety, dissociation, eating disorders, self-harm and self-hatred, the more I’ve wondered whether, if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition. The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge. I struggled with severe OCD as a teenager. If I’d found community and sympathy online that I couldn’t find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred."
With regard to a common response to her tweets, Rowling writes, "I’ve been told to ‘just meet some trans people.’ I have: in addition to a few younger people, who were all adorable, I happen to know a self-described transsexual woman who’s older than I am and wonderful."
Rowling adds that while she feels "sympathy" for many members of the transgender community, she strongly disagrees with certain transgender activists.
"The ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning," she writes, directly referencing the tweet which sparked online controversy. "I understand why trans activists consider this language to be appropriate and kind, but for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating."
Rowling also claims that many other women and feminists disagree with these activists but are afraid to do so publicly.
"I know this because so many have got in touch with me to tell their stories. They’re afraid of doxxing, of losing their jobs or their livelihoods, and of violence," she shares. "But endlessly unpleasant as its constant targeting of me has been, I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it. I stand alongside the brave women and men, gay, straight and trans, who’re standing up for freedom of speech and thought, and for the rights and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society: young gay kids, fragile teenagers, and women who’re reliant on and wish to retain their single sex spaces."
Rowling says that she wanted to write this essay to give context to herself and her reasoning behind the tweets.
"I have a complex backstory, which shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions," she explains. "I never forget that inner complexity when I’m creating a fictional character and I certainly never forget it when it comes to trans people."
Rowling first faced controversy this weekend when she mocked an article talking about "people who menstruate," joking that there "used to be a word" for those people. After being slammed on social media by members and allies of the transgender community, the British author then clarified her position, tweeting, "If sex isn't real, there's no same-sex attraction. If sex isn't real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn't hate to speak the truth."
This comment garnered even more backlash, and led to Daniel Radcliffe, Eddie Redmayne and more stars speaking out against Rowling's remarks.