The issue is not Rowling’s controversial opinions regarding transgender individuals. For the record, they are not exactly congruent with my own, which is that once an individual has transitioned physically to another gender, we should respect that new identity. I do not believe, and will never believe, that individuals can change their gender by just saying so, or that the government should make laws that enforce that fiction. No matter what “The Crying Game” told us, people with male sex organs (I am not talking about anomalous intersex individuals whose physical sexuality is ambiguous) have to be officially male for public policy purposes.
None of which is relevant to why J.K Rowling is an Ethics Hero. Rowling, who is more active on social media than is wise, used Twitter to question an article’s use of the phrase “people who menstruate” instead of saying “women.” “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased,” she wrote. Predictably, trans activists and much of the “woke” establishment now want Rowling “cancelled.” The LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD called her tweets “anti-trans”—this is the gender wars equivalent of calling anyone who criticizes Black Lives Matter “racist”— and wrote: “JK Rowling continues to align herself with an ideology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people.”
Rowling did not “target” anyone. She disagreed with the use of a clumsy and misleading term for “women.”
To her great credit, unlike so many celebrities and public figures, Rowling did not retract her statements after being criticized, nor did she issue the obligatory mea culpa. Instead, she issued a long defense of her statements on the subject, causing teeth to gnash and heads to explode from sea to shining sea. This is how all individuals should respond when they are being intimidated, threatened and extorted to alter their beliefs and opinions to comport with an official narrative, be it from the Left or the Right. If more targets of the cancel culture were vocal and defiant, this dangerous trend would die out: the sinister, totalitarian-style formula seeking mind and expression control is gaining strength because, so far, it has been effective. It has been effective because so many lack the character to fight for essential personal liberties.
It is true that Rowling has an advantage that many targets of social media mobs do not. She is rich beyond imagining, and doesn’t need to publish another book or sell another screenplay to be able to bathe in gold and jewels for the rest of her life. It is indeed easier to be brave when your enemies can’t destroy you. Most of the fans of Rowling’s books couldn’t care less what her opinions on sex and gender are.
However, most celebrities are so much more committed to popularity and approval from the “right” people than to upholding the critical values of free expression and the open exchange of ideas that even their wealth won’t stiffen their spines. Rowling’s defiance is a refreshing departure from the Cult of the Celebrity Weenie, and an important one.
Before leaving J.K., I must note the epic ingratitude and disloyalty of the now grown juvenile “Harry Potter” film stars Daniel Radcliffe (Harry in the films) and Emma Watson (Hermione) , who piled on with the rest of Rowling’s attackers. Neither of them would be wealthy, famous, celebrities, or vaguely interesting without Rowling providing their vehicle to fame. Radcliffe issued an intellectually flaccid regurgitation of politically correct cant (nicely deconstructed by Ann Althouse), and Watson provided an equally fatuous tweet, “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.” Like Rowling, the two actors are entitled to their opinions, but the kind and ethical response would have been to sit this controversy out. Their criticism only feeds the flames, and they owe their careers and lives to the author.
To be fair, neither performer is as secure as Rowling, so they may feel that they have to toe the political line, or their post-Potter careers will be in jeopardy. Nobody should pretend, if that’s the case however, that their turning on their benefactor is based on anything but crass self-interest.