Why I quit my literary agency over JK Rowling’s ‘anti-trans’ comments

The Blair Partnership, an organisation which states ‘progressive is our watchword’ has fallen at the first hurdle in its failure to offer a public expression of support for an underrepresented group

Ugla Stefana Kristjnudttir Jnsdttir
Thursday 25 June 2020 16:08 BST
Republican senator quotes JK Rowling while opposing an LGBT equality act

On Monday, myself and three other authors decided to leave our publishing agency, the Blair partnership. It was not a decision we took lightly but, ultimately, it was one we felt we had no choice but to make.

Me and another of the authors, my partner, Fox Fisher, are transgender. The Blair partnership is the publishing agency which JK Rowling is signed to. When we were first signed in September last year, we were both really excited about it. We’re both massive fans of the Harry Potter series and my family does a marathon of the films every Christmas.

So when we saw her recent comments about transgender people, it was incredibly upsetting and disappointing. Not just for us personally, but also for every young transgender person out there who loves Harry Potter, or looked up to her. Many also feel that some of the views expressed in her essay about transgender children on her website cast doubt onto parents of transgender children, who, just like many others in this country, are simply trying to support and love their children as best they can.

In the aftermath of those comments, senior figures at our literary agency publicly expressed support for her views. They refused our attempts to open up a meaningful dialogue or allow us to explain why Rowling’s remarks are so hurtful and damaging to people who are transgender. The situation soon became untenable and we were left feeling alienated, alone and that people like us, people who are transgender and those who support us, were not welcome there.

The days since we left the partnership have been extremely challenging. We’ve been subject to a barrage of abuse, bullying and threats of violence. And all this for just being who we are and for wanting to feel safe and accepted at our workplace.

Transgender people in the UK face violence, harassment and discrimination on an almost daily basis. Every year, two in five transgender people will be the victim of a hate crime because of their gender identity. At a time of a global pandemic, when all of us are struggling with the daily realities of life under lockdown, it’s difficult to understand why Rowling, an enormously successful author with a huge platform, has chosen to say what she said about people like me and my partner, who just want to get on with our lives. The playing field is far from even on this, and the imbalance is painfully clear to us.

We’ve learnt so much as a society recently about how it is not enough to claim to be "progressive"; you have to back it up with real, meaningful action. The Blair Partnership, an organisation which states "progressive is our watchword" has fallen at the first hurdle in its failure to offer a public expression of support for an underrepresented group. We were simply asking the Blair Partnership to walk the walk, starting with diversity and inclusion training, to better equip the organisation to support their transgender employees and authors. Sadly, they’ve refused to do this.

As we’ve seen this week, with Baroness Nicholson finally being dropped by the Booker Prize as honorary vice president over her stance against same-sex marriage and allegations of "transphobic and racist abuse" towards transgender model Munroe Bergdorf, the publishing industry is beginning to take some brave and welcome steps to address its lack of diversity.

Transgender women, like so many women, suffer at the hands of male violence and, as a result, often seek out services like refuges and shelters. Most shelters and services across the UK have been transgender-inclusive and used by transgender women for decades. Organisations like Refuge and Women’s Aid are particularly supportive of transgender women, recognising that they experience disproportionately high levels of sexual and domestic violence, and, like all survivors of violence, are deserving of support.

Indeed, as a survivor of sexual abuse and harassment, I know how important safer spaces are. Having access to space through Women’s Aid is what truly helped me move on with my life. I’ve found solidarity with women across the board who’ve experienced the same, and I know that our experiences – and our trauma – intersect in so many different ways.

JK Rowling in lengthy explanation over transgender comments

We know that many people don’t understand what it means to be transgender, or all the terminology around it. Many people may feel very confused or worried about what to say, and that’s perfectly normal. None of us were born knowing the language either – it’s something that evolves as we find ways to better describe our identities and experiences.

There are lots of ways for people to learn and we’re not asking anyone to be an expert or to never make mistakes. Far from it. We are simply asking that people take a bit of time to talk to transgender people before they make up their minds about us.

As the recent Netflix documentary Disclosure points out, most of the information people receive about transgender people comes from people who aren’t transgender themselves. It doesn’t have to be this way – there are plenty of ways to listen to our voices. For example, I’m involved with the film project My Genderation, which documents the experiences of transgender people. I also work alongside All About Trans, a project which hosts compassionate open conversations between transgender and non-transgender people, giving people an opportunity to ask questions and build their understanding.

At the heart of it all, trans people are people. We are your sisters, your brothers, your siblings, your partners, your friends, your colleagues. We share the same hopes and dreams, we share the same need to feel safe and supported and we share the same spaces. Isn’t there enough room here for all of us?

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