- J.K. Rowling posted a 3,600-word statement on her website to explain her history of transphobic comments, voicing concern for what she said is an “explosion” of young people assigned female at birth seeking gender-affirming care, as well as a growing number de-transitioning.
- While more people may be openly identifying as trans and seeking gender-affirming treatment, that’s likely because those treatments haven’t been accessible until recent years.
- Detransitioning is very rare and, contrary to what Rowling’s wrote, it’s usually not done due to regret but more often due to the lack of social and family support for trans people.
- Rowling’s post perpetuates myths about trans people that can prevent them from receiving life-saving care.
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The author has been widely criticised for a history of making transphobic comments, including most recently writing on Twitter that trans activism was harming women, and reiterating her rejection of the existence of non-binary and intersex people.
Rowling said in her post that one of the reasons she’s taken such positions is that she’s “concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition,” as well as the growing number who she says seem to be detransitioning, or returning to the sex they were assigned at birth.
They do so, Rowling wrote, “because they regret taking steps that have, in some cases, altered their bodies irrevocably, and taken away their fertility.”
She added: “Some say they decided to transition after realising they were same-sex attracted, and that transitioning was partly driven by homophobia, either in society or in their families.”
Rowling also said that 10 years ago most people who wanted to transition were assigned male at birth, but now the UK “has experienced a 4,400% increase in girls being referred for transitioning treatment,” adding that autistic girls are “hugely overrepresented.”
Rowling’s claims are not only unsupported by data, but perpetuate dangerous myths about trans people that can inhibit their access to life-saving care.
There doesn’t seem to be a surge in trans boys and men in particular
Demographers don’t know exactly how many transgender people there are or how that number has changed, since there are a range of terms to describe transgender identities and population-based surveys have historically not asked about trans identities.
Rowling’s 4,400% increase reference seems to come from a report finding that 40 people assigned female at birth in the UK sought gender treatment between 2009 and 2010, while 1,806 did between 2017 and 2018.
Polly Carmichael, a psychologist who heads The Tavistock and Portman mental health clinic’s gender identity service (which was the only trans affirming service in the UK in 2016), told NBC that while she is seeing large increase in the number of patients in need of gender-affirming care, this is likely due to an increase in visibility for trans services and gender varience rather than a “trend.”
“Young people experiencing gender dysphoria is a real phenomenon,” Carmichael said. “It can be incredibly isolating. If you don’t feel you belong in a particular category that you’ve been assigned to. Many adolescents do become very distressed and self-harm.”
Rowling’s assertion that being a trans boy or man is suddenly more common than being a trans girl or woman is also questionable. In fact, one 2019 survey from the UK government found 3.5% of the population were trans women (women who were assigned male at birth) while 2.9% were trans men (men who’d been assigned female at birth).
The rise in gender-affirming treatment is largely due to better access to care
While more people who were assigned female at birth have transitioned in recent years, that’s likely because gender-affirming treatments such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and surgeries weren’t that accessible to transgender people until recently.
Insurance companies refused to cover gender-affirming care for decades and many primary-care physicians were unwilling to provide HRT, a medication also prescribed for menopause, to transgender and nonbinary patients because medical guidelines had not changed to include them.
It wasn’t until 2017 that “gender identity disorder” was decategorized as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In fact the World Health Organisation removed “transsexualism” from the International Classification of Diseases only in 2018 – a move that, the WHO said, would allow for better “access to necessary health interventions.”
Many trans people simply have more access.
While there is a small number of people who detransition, the reason is rarely regret
While detransitioning does happen, it’s very rare, with one analysis showing that less than a per cent of 3,398 trans people said they’d experienced transitioned-related regret, or had detransitioned.
And contrary to Rowling’s assertion that detransitioning means the person regretted transitioning, “the most common reason for detransition is the person couldn’t cope with the family and community support they lost and the experiences of transphobia,” according to the UK organisation Stonewall.
Others may be unable to find a job or housing, or no longer identify the gender they transitioned to feel more valid in.
Research actually shows any feelings of regret are typically related to unsatisfactory surgical results.
These fears about detransitioning can be dangerous because they invalidate the gender identities of young trans people and make it more difficult to obtain access to care.
Across the United States, state representatives are attempting to pass legislation that would go against medical guidelines and ban doctors from providing gender-affirming treatments to transgender youth. Their arguments are based on the same logic of Rowling’s assertion that transgender youth are simply going through a phase they will grow out of.
Studies have debunked this idea and shown children as young as four develop their gender in the same ways as their cisgender peers.
In a study released in 2019, researchers found no significant differences between the trans and cis kids’ gender development, or how they grew to understand and formulate their gender. The findings also revealed that transgender children gravitate toward the same gendered toys, clothing items, and friends as cisgender participants, regardless of how long they had been socially transitioned.
“Gender-affirming health care saves lives,” Shawn Meerkamper and Dale Melchert, senior staff attorney and staff attorney for the Transgender Law Centre, told Insider for a previous story.
The study Rowling cited as evidence that ‘social contagion’ drives gender dysphoria has been called out for its flaws
In her essay, Rowling made the point that the gender dysphoria – when a person feels as if their body doesn’t match their gender identity – that many young trans people are feeling is a “social contagion.”
She cited a 2018 study from Brown University that argued the “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD), typically for those assigned female at birth, came out of social pressures from peers rather than genuine feelings of being transgender.
This study has since been cited by media outlets and gender-critical feminists as an argument against transgender youth receiving gender-affirming care. Like Rowling, people have used this research to make the argument that being trans is a trend.
However, another recent study from Brown University debunked the claim that ROGD exists.
Arjee Restar, a transgender researcher at Brown, wrote a critique of the study that found the methodology – including surveying parents of trans teens who had read anti-trans websites – is flawed and pathologizes trans people.
PLOS One, the journal the 2018 study appeared in, published a revised version that said the data was based on observations of parents rather than data from the trans teens themselves. If a parent does not see their child’s gender identity as valid, they are likely more susceptible to cite ROGD as the reason their child has started to openly identify as trans.
Restar told BuzzFeed News that the corrected version of the study was still flawed and “below scientific standards.”
“It’s important to use methods and terminologies that don’t further stigmatised an already disenfranchised community,” Restar said.
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