Ugla Stefanía, a.k.a. Owl Fisher, writes an open letter to author J.K. Rowling.
I wanted to take this time to write to you about your comments and stance on transgender people.
But before I get into that I wanted to show solidarity with you regarding the domestic abuse you have suffered. As a survivor of sexual abuse myself I know how absolutely horrendous and soul-destroying such an experience is.
To feel unsafe in your own home and from the person you love is bound to leave scars on you forever. I know that it has for me, and I certainly have trouble trusting men and I understand that your trauma affects you in various ways, as it does for all survivors.
I am glad you are out of that situation and are now living a happy, fulfilled life with your husband and kids.
What I also really wanted to address, which is something that I strongly detect in your words and stance, is that you have nothing to fear from people like me.
I find it hard to know where to begin with conversations like this. Like you, I can only come at it from my own experiences. I’m really sad to see that your experiences and situations have lead to you seemingly having distrust for people like myself, and I hope that I can at least attempt to rectify that to some degree.
“What I also really wanted to address, which is something that I strongly detect in your words and stance, is that you have nothing to fear from people like me.”
As a transgender person I have had to fight really hard for who I am. I’ve had to fight countless of people, even medical professionals, to get the health care that I need in order to feel happy in my own skin.
I’ve not only had to overcome doubt and fear from other people, but from within myself as well. I’ve had to chase away my own demons, reconcile with parts of me that I would rather have banished once upon a time, and learned to embrace myself for who I am.
Thankfully health care services are constantly shifting and improving, and modern research show us the immense benefits transgender people feel from getting access to the services that they desperately need.
Even so, we are still in a place where transgender people really have to fight for their access to health care in the UK, with incredibly long waiting lists and convoluted hoops they have to jump through. Seeing people suggest that trans health care is given on a whim and is unregulated therefore doesn’t ring true with experiences of the vast majority of transgender people across this country.
Fortunately, I have come to the other side and I am more happy than ever about where my life is at. Everyone around me can see it—and I feel it, too. My relationships and my interactions with those around me have never been more deeper or more meaningful, and that’s because I don’t have to hide parts of who I am.
The same certainly goes for our young people, which I believe strongly we need to protect and support. People are coming out as trans younger than ever, thanks to increased public awareness and access to services that provide support.
Increases in people or certain groups seeking out those services might seem high when people use big numbers like ‘4400%’, but such statements ignore the nuances and the fact that in the bigger picture, these numbers really aren’t that high when compared to the general population. Blanket statistic statements without context rarely give us the full picture.
Modern research shows us that support and medical help when appropriate is vital to ensure the mental and physical well-being of transgender kids and teens, and the rewards they reep from it are invaluable.
I’ve also been hugely fortunate to have been welcomed with open arms into feminist organisations and feminist groups both in Iceland and beyond, and this has really helped me articulate myself and become a better feminist and campaigner for trans rights.
While there have certainly been instances and discussions that I’ve found frustrating and challenging on transgender issues within those circles, this is also the case with so many other issues within feminism. That’s because feminism has never been a place where we all agree, but a place where we shape new ideas, share our voices and try to create a better society for everyone.
We all can only speak from our own experiences and place in society, and the fundamental aspect of feminism for me is to listen to the voices of those impacted, and those we are speaking of. If we allow the fears of others towards a minority group dictate how we feel about them, we are further marginalising them and doing ourselves and our values a disservice. We need to be able to see our own place of privilege and reflect on that.
I am fortunate enough to have been able to seek out the help I needed in terms of dealing with the trauma that sexual abuse had on me. They provided me with life-saving support and help. The fact I was a trans person never became an issue, nor should it have.
Since then I have worked in the Women’s Aid movement, and I have also always been a strong advocate in terms of raising awareness of domestic abuse and sexual violence. It’s something I find incredibly important as it impacts all of us, and certainly transgender people to a large degree.
This is why I find it so difficult and so hurtful when people claim that my presence there, or my access to such spaces, could potentially be a threat to others. I know for a fact that it isn’t, as I know how these services work, and that these services have been inclusive for decades. Trans women do not pose a threat to other women, whether that is in gendered spaces or in general society.
I recognise that many will still say that they feel afraid of trans women or sharing spaces with them, and will perhaps draw up instances where a trans woman has been abusive. But like with any crop, there will always be bad apples. And as we all know, using extreme cases of violence to paint an entire social group as dangerous is a precarious way to make your argument, and is not founded in fact and reason, but fear and ignorance.
Trans people having access to gendered spaces or services, or trans people receiving more rights will in no way diminish or erode the work that these services offer or that many charities do—whether or not they are directly related to people’s physical characteristics.
In Iceland, where I’m from, we are already miles ahead in terms of legal rights compared to the UK. This hasn’t negatively impacted anyone’s rights, definitions, or the amazing work many charities do for women—cisgender or otherwise.
All trans people wish for is that they are included in conversations that impact them, i.e. when it comes down to menstruation. It is something that affects transgender men and non-binary people, and to be inclusive of that when appropriate can hardly be seen as erasure; but rather expansion and inclusion.
I am aware of all the amazing philanthropic work that you do, and all the wonderful projects you support with your charitable trust. In your essay that you released on your website, you said you were worried that ‘new trans activism’ would negatively impact your work.
I want to assure you that this is not the case, and I am sorry if you have been lead to believe otherwise. Transgender people certainly don’t have that power, nor do they wish to wield it.
The fight for an equal society regardless of your gender identity does in no way seek to erode such important work, but merely wishes for those who it impacts to be included in the conversation where appropriate.
Transgender people are very often painfully aware of the sex characteristics, that often cause us great distress and agony. This is why many of us seek medical care in terms of hormonal therapy and surgeries that alter those sex characteristics; so that we can feel happy in our own skin.
“I am aware of all the amazing philanthropic work that you do, and all the wonderful projects you support with your charitable trust. In your essay that you released on your website, you said you were worried that ‘new trans activism’ would negatively impact your work.”
Transgender people are fully aware of the physical differences between them and others of the same gender. For example, transgender women and cisgender women certainly have physical differences, as do women within those categories itself—and vice versa for transgender men. Those of us who are non-binary are also fully aware of our physical characteristics and where we fall on the spectrum.
Those differences however, should never be used as an excuse to exclude trans people from services, spaces or communities. Exclusion is never the answer.
There are many people who have also written about this who are much more articulate than I am, and I suggest you read their work, continue seeking out charities that work for transgender people and listen to the stories of transgender people themselves.
This debate has been toxic for a very long time, and I think we all have a responsibility to be aware of that and the massive impact this debate is having on transgender people in terms of their mental health and physical safety. It is easy to fall into a rabbit hole of misinformation that is disguised as reasonable arguments, and I think we all need to remember to remain critical, see the bigger picture and not be swayed by arguments that are founded in conservative values, fundamentalism and zero sum debates.
Many of the arguments that I see put out there in the public domain are robbed of the human experience we all share. If we were able to see that, even for a moment, I strongly believe we would find that all our fears, worries and concerns all stem from the same problem that we can fight together, to create a world where everyone is respected and loved exactly for who they are, regardless of gender, identity, physical characteristics or history.
None of us are the sum of our parts, but we are all the sum of our actions. Let’s make sure that those contribute to a positive, equal and more open society.