Comment

Herald Top 10: CC Pecknold: Why is JK Rowling being denounced? Because she said No to a lie

JK Rowling (Getty)

We end 2019 by republishing our most-read Magazine and Comment pieces of the year. This is Number 7: from just last week, CC Pecknold on the trans backlash against JK Rowling

Progressives are denouncing JK Rowling this week, insisting that she has ruined Harry Potter in a single tweet. One can almost hear them cry, “burn the books!”

What’s puzzling about this is that JK Rowling is hardly a conservative opponent of all things liberal. On the contrary, she’s the consummate liberal with all the right opinions for an elite culture producer. So what opinion of hers could possibly warrant such severe sanctions? What could she say that has the power to ruin Potter forever?

Rowling wrote a single tweet in support of Maya Forstater, a tax expert who was fired from her job at the Centre for Global Development for stating on social media that a person cannot change their biological sex. Yet Forstater was not merely fired for stating a biological fact, she lost a test case over it in a UK Court.

Forstater’s termination was based on the crime of using “offensive and exclusionary” language. In a 26-page judgment Judge James Tayler ruled that Forstater’s termination was just.  The employment judge concluded from “the totality of the evidence that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

That is a judgment of extreme prejudice against biological reality. But it is also a judgment in perfect conformity with gender ideologues who have learned how to use liberal institutions as a weapon to achieve their gnostic-political aims. They are not satisfied that they have the power to get people fired for holding science against them. They want total conformity, absolute obeisance, and they are intent on getting it through both law and culture.

That’s why the iconic JK Rowling is such a prime target. She is the quintessential culture-maker whose magical tales helped a post-Christian culture retain the husk of liberal Christianity while finally shedding all the most demanding transcendent commitments. Judge Tayler demonstrated the compliance of law to the new religious ideals, but Rowling did not.

Rowling’s support for Forstater was measured. She showed her deference for sexual liberality. She even began in support of cross-dressing. But her crime came in her concluding sentence:

“Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill”

Her defense of social liberalism was not enough to save Harry Potter from certain doom. To stand with Maya was too much. And the gender-police pounced. A range of LGBT advocacy groups, such as The Human Rights Campaign, immediately condemned Rowling for challenging the new trans-orthodoxy. The company tweeted in defiance, “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary people are non-binary. CC: JK Rowling.” Just as Judge Tayler had ruled that Forstater was “not worthy of respect in a democratic society,” so was Rowling being subjected to a kind of religious cancellation.

One prominent LBGT activist wrote the cultural condemnation this way: “JK Rowling’s imagination is big enough to create a world where there’s a secret magical school, invisible train platforms that help you get there, and creatures from dragons to screaming plants. Yet, she can’t imagine why trans women ought to be recognized as their identity. Wow.” That’s a telling cultural judgment, and an insight into the gender gnosticism. It’s not that Rowling is wrong on the science, it’s that her imagination failed. The thing for which Rowling is rightly famous — her imagination — is the very thing which has fallen. JK Rowling’s sin is to believe that biological sex is a matter of science, not fantasy.

The Vox headline summed up the inquisition with a rhetorical question: “Did JK Rowling just destroy the legacy of Harry Potter with a single, transphobic tweet?” Progressives were so upset by Rowling’s “transphobic turn” that it was even trending ahead of their obsession with impeaching Donald Trump.

I hope Rowling stands her ground. She seems to believe in the biological reality of sex. But cultural cancellation for a culture-maker may be too high a price. That’s certainly the impression that the inquisitors very much intend. If this is how they have been “winning” both culture and law for the last decade, what should stop them now? If a cultural icon and hero must be sacrificed, so be it.

As Sohrab Ahmari has noted at First Things, the whole affair smacks of a kind of “integralism”. The power of the state is being weaponized to coerce every knee to bend at the false gnostic god of gender. They are not burdened by causal arguments about culture being downstream from politics, or politics being downstream from culture. They demand everything all at once with every ounce of legal, political and cultural force. What can stop that?

Maya Forstater said No to a lie. She said No to a fantasy that is a nightmare for many de-transitioning victims of transgender ideology. The progressive inquisitors who sought to punish JK Rowling for dissenting from gender orthodoxy must know that there are many who are also ready to say No to the lie. Since the gender gnostics don’t have truth on their side, they will continue to look for witches — and books — to burn. So we will need to become not only the people who say No to lies, but we will also need to become people willing to say Yes, to bear costly witness to the truth.