JK Rowling and Trans Debate is Driven by Western Perspectives

As the first openly gay national level legislator in Asia and the founder of the Blue Diamond Society, Nepal’s first LGBT organisation, I worked alongside transgender women, and I have something to say about the controversy around J.K. Rowling and trans debate.

I find the debate is driven by very western perspectives of gender, sexuality, identity and space, which shouldn’t be taken as universal.

While both sides of the debate talk about respect and diversity, both sides, knowingly or unknowingly, are confined into a binary notions of gender and how we are as humans.

1) People who menstruate and people who don’t menstruate.

First, both sides of the debate are focusing only on women’s and trans women’s perspectives, but they ignore men and trans men’s existence altogether. J.K. Rowling assumes that people who menstruate are the ‘real’ women and not anyone else. What about people who menstruate and feel, identify and live like men (and/or live not like women)? Would J.K. Rowling call them ‘real’ women too?

Young girls don’t menstruate until they reach a certain age. Are they not ‘real’ girls? Women after a certain age stop menstruation. Do they become ‘unreal’ women after those natural events in their bodies and lives?

To make her point, J.K. Rowling uses the phrase ‘people who menstruate’. This is highly insensitive, if the not offensive and hateful.

2) Women or men? Are trans-women women and trans-men men?

Now, the other side of the controversy: trans women are women, and so, trans men are men. Why this binary obsession? Why does everyone have to be boxed into this binary gender system of women and men? This notion is very Western. There are other cultures outside of the western ones where more genders than men and women are recognized and accepted. In some cultures, they are even celebrated. When we say trans women are women, it sounds very good in terms of fighting for equality. But what about those people who are Hijras, third genders, two-spirited people, Kathoey, Fa’afafine, Fakaleiti, Māhū, Chibados and similarly the sworn virgins of Albania, Shikandi of the Hindu Epic Mahabharata, Svairini, and more?

There are other cultures outside of the western ones where more genders than men and women are recognized and accepted.

I do admit that there are far fewer mentioned or known cultures of female to male non-binary people than male to female ones in ancient history and cultures, as well as among today’s cultures and communities.

I support when trans women say they are women in the West. But such a notion must not be enforced internationally and universally to other cultures. After all, ‘gender’ is a societal construct (based on biology of course) that incorporates social perceptions and cultural contexts.

Also bear in mind that when you say ‘trans women are women’, you must also say ‘trans men are men’. You can’t ignore the practical implications of such realities, like competing in same sport tournaments or accessing the same toilets.

3) Equality or diversity?

I totally support the rights to express your gender and sexuality within the spectrum of femininity and masculinity and a fluidity of identities and expression. But we must see that at a deeper level, when one says ‘trans men are men’ and ‘trans women are women’, one elevates men and women as the best standard of existence. Perhaps one feels themself lower than men and women and hence strives to become a man or a woman. Ask yourself why the statements are not the other way around: ‘men are trans men’ and ‘women are trans women’.

Equality is not about becoming like someone else who you consider privileged and respected. It is about the opportunity for you to become privileged and respected without losing who you are.

This post was first published on the author’s personal blog

Sunil Pant