Voices: Daniel Radcliffe’s open letter to JK Rowling shows trans rights aren’t a political issue – they’re a moral one

A lot of anti-trans arguments fall flat when you replace tired buzzwords with ‘people who are just trying to live their lives’

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One of the nice things about being born in the 90s is that during my childhood and teenage years, society had managed to trick itself into believing that we’d left all the old bigotries behind – that it would all be smooth sailing from then on.

Every Nickelodeon show had a self-consciously diverse cast of radical teens working together to stamp out the final remaining shreds of intolerance (and also say no to drugs). Teachers taught inclusion and acceptance as a matter of course, without worrying about angry parents kicking up a fuss about how being nice to people goes against their political beliefs. If somebody tried to get us to debate them, we just told them to f*** off instead of engaging in a 300-tweet long back-and-forth.

It was a fantasy, obviously. The 90s had a lot of old-school homophobia and racism left over from the 80s, and most of our institutions were still inherently racist, even when we paid lip-service to diversity. When 9/11 came along, suddenly anti-Muslim bigotry was on the table – and don’t get me started on the gay marriage “debate” of my late teens.

The thing is, no matter how tolerant society thinks it has become, there’s always going to be a standout issue or two that politicians and the media latch on to as the “exception” to the social norm of inclusion.

You’ve probably heard some of these, and usually on Facebook: “Don’t be intolerant – but being afraid of Aids makes sense, that’s just science.” “Racism is bad – but Islam isn’t a race, and also we need to protect our children from terrorists.” “I’m not homophobic, I just want to protect the definition of marriage.”

It’s the old same boring bigotry, spruced up with a fresh coat of paint. And it’s the same old people trying to intellectualise that bigotry and telling us that no, don’t worry, this time your fear and disgust are completely justified.

Daniel Radcliffe touched on some of these ideas in an essay he wrote for the Trevor Project in 2020, specifically regarding the rights and dignities of trans people. In the letter, Radcliffe hit back against the perceived anti-trans beliefs of Harry Potter author JK Rowling(who vehemently denies being anti-trans), saying: “Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.”

He continued: “It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.” And he’s now clarified why he felt moved to write it in the first place.

“The reason I felt very, very much as though I needed to say something when I did was because, particularly since finishing [the Potter franchise], I’ve met so many queer and trans kids and young people who had a huge amount of identification with Potter on that,” Radcliffe said, in an interview with IndieWire published this week.

“And so seeing them hurt on that day I was like, I wanted them to know that not everybody in the franchise felt that way. It was really important as I’ve worked with the Trevor Project for more than 10 years, and so I don’t think I would’ve been able to look myself in the mirror had I not said anything,” he added.

It’s a powerful statement for anyone who is anti-trans that cuts right to the heart of the issue: shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about. In other words – stop coming up with a thousand reasons to justify the fact that trans people make you feel icky, and find a more fulfilling hobby.

Come to terms with the fact that every generation believes its own unique brand of hate is somehow unique and special – that “no guys, this time it really does make sense for us to be huge pieces of s*** towards an entire subsection of the human experience” – and admit that you’re just wannabe phrenologists who tweet too much.

Because that’s what it comes down to: you can come up with as many arguments as you like – and repeat the same three tired talking points over and over – but at the end of the day, trans right aren’t a political issue at all. They’re a moral one. That’s why we need to get rid of the word “debate”.

We have all now realised that racism, feminism, homosexuality – and any other identity – are matters of basic human compassion, and shouldn’t be the subject of “debate” because the debate itself is so dehumanising to begin with.

It’s why you hear so many references to the “trans community” or the “trans lobby” – it’s a lot easier to think of human rights as a political issue when you use the language of politics to describe them. A lot of anti-trans arguments fall flat when you replace those buzzwords with “people who are just trying to live their lives.”

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People who are anti-trans are going to be shamed by history – bigots always are, in the end – but in the meantime, a generation of trans people is going to have to suffer state-sponsored abuse until history decides to finally catch up.

We’re going to stand around screaming at each other, waving around graphs and figures and promising that we “just have this one last point to make and then you’ll understand”; meanwhile trans people are going to have to live with the knowledge that they are in a world where their existence is an “issue” that you’re allowed to “takes sides” on.

It’s pathetic, it’s tedious, it’s harmful – and it’s a song we’ve played many times before. You’d think we’d have learned by now, but no. We just keep telling ourselves that this time it’s different. That this bigotry is special.

I’m aware I’m not immune to any of this. I know full well that in 30 years time I’ll be sat here writing articles about how “me and Donald Trump’s cyber-clone don’t agree on a lot of things, but he’s right about human-android relationships.”

But right now, while I’m sat here on the other side of that veil, seeing the same old story play out over and over again, it’s infuriating. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for trans people.

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