DISCLOSURE, J.K. Rowling, & Why the Narrative of Violent Trans Women in Pop-Culture Has to Change

Written by Malin Evita. This piece was originally published on Vocal, July 2nd 2020.

For the past few days, #TransWomenAreWomen has been trending on Twitter. This is after Stephen King tweeted just that which got J.K. Rowling to unfollow him and delete a tweet where she thanked and praised him (after he retweeted an excerpt from a thread of hers).

Now, whilst on her ever-ongoing transphobic endeavours, J.K.R. constantly claims that she is in fact not transphobic, and yet by the way that she reacted to the statement “trans women are women”, it almost seems like she takes the statement on as a personal attack. How can she “know and love trans people” and then react the way she did to a tweet that was, perhaps, the least controversial way to acknowledge trans identities?

Unfortunately, with her constant controversies and transphobic stir-ups, it is not one bit shocking. It is still disappointing though, and pretty concerning considering her massive following and platform.

J.K.R.’s history of transphobic comments is nothing new, and it seems that whenever she is in the news, it is either in relation to trying to erase the validity of trans identities or because she continues to try and justify queer-baiting Dumbledore’s sexuality.

Recently she was back in the news for being offended by the term ‘people who menstruate’ being used in the title of an article about menstrual health and hygiene. She then proceeded to write a near 4k word essay – I’m not in the mood to break it down, and that is not what this article is about, but if you do want a full break down of it you can read Vulture’s rebuttal here.

One of the arguments that are most frequently made by J.K.R. and other trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs, for short) is the threat trans women (which they often will not refer to as such, but rather ‘men in dresses’ or other transphobic rhetoric) pose to the safety and well being of cis-gendered girls and women, particularly when it comes to bathroom policies and such.

And yet if you look at the statistics, transwomen – especially non-white – are disproportionately killed and assaulted. According to this Stonewall UK Trans Report, 41% of trans people have experienced a hate crime in the past year. And if you research bathroom assault cases, there is an overwhelming amount of incidents of trans people being attacked and sexually assaulted.

So where does this stereotype of the violent and pervasive trans woman stem from?

Statistics on trans-identifying people around the world is not at this time robust enough to make a concise estimate, but the most common assessment puts trans people as making up about 1% or the population (roughly as much as gingers). This means that the majority of people will never encounter or have any sort of personal relationship with a transgender person. With this in mind, the portrayal of trans people in the media, film, and TV, plays a vital part in informing and educating cis-people on the matter.

According to a recent Pew poll, nearly 90% of Americans say they personally know someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. However, according to a recent Harris poll, only 16% of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender.

Between 2012 and 2017, GLAAD – a non-gov American media monitoring organization funded by LGBTQ+ people in media – recorded that from the 102 television episodes featuring a trans person, 21% of them were portrayed as villains. Disappointing, but not surprising.

“In our society, it is considered acceptable to be masculine, but to give up that masculinity and present as feminine is a sign of deviance or some form of mental disorder. […] Trans women are seen by our society as giving up their masculinity, and therefore power, to become more feminine.” The Representation of Trans Women in Film and Television, by Nikki Reitz.

In Netflix’s newest documentary Disclosure, trans creatives in the film industry break down the historic portrayal of trans men and women in film and TV. From Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to Silence of the Lambs, trans women have been depicted as disgusting, deranged, pervasive, and dangerous, for decades. This narrative is vile, dehumanizing, and puts trans people in real danger by infesting people with irrational fear and prejudices.

This is very reminiscent of white supremacist propaganda where black men would be painted as savages that rape white women (ie Birth of a Nation), as well as the anti-Mexican rhetoric Trump would spread as he listed immigrants as drug dealers and rapists.

This has to stop.

Although with many miles to go, from stopping the casting of cis-people in transgender roles to the constant killing by and off trans people, we have also seen a lot of progress when it comes to trans representation in the media in the past few years. With well rounded trans characters in shows such as Pose and Euphoria, the narrative is persistently evolving.

If you do want to become more educated on the matter of trans representation in film and TV, I highly encourage you to go watch Disclosure on Netflix, right now. And if you don’t want to, that probably means that you, more than anyone, should. Hopefully, this will make you take a real good look at where your fears and prejudices stem from and re-evaluate their validity.

Trans women are women.

And they are not a danger to you.

Written by Malin Evita

Evita is the co-host of Making It, curator of their Instagram page, and a writer focusing on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and is currently studying Professional Writing Skills at college.

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