I didn’t want to write the script for this video.
I didn’t want to shoot or honestly talk about the possibility of JK Rowling being transphobic because it’s really difficult for me to discuss. And I don’t begrudge anyone who looks at this whole controversy and can safely argue that it’s a completely non-issue, a non story. And that’s truly how I wanted this to be. I wanted to ignore it.
But I can’t.
As much as I wanted to skip this, I can’t because, as the clip I showed at the beginning of the video below says, is that one of the hardest things for any of us to do is to stand up to those we hold dear, to our friends. Now, I’m going to come back to that later on, but I want to make clear that this video, while extremely critical of JK Rowling comes from a really complicated mixture of my own pain, love, and hope.
Before I begin, this discussion about JK Rowling possibly being actively against the transgender community is a completely separate issue from the criticism surrounding her inclusion (or lack thereof) of gay characters and specifically the accusations of queerbaiting that she’s faced.
While they are entirely justified in my opinion, they are criticisms of Rowling’s attempts at being an ally to only the gay community. Being an ally is not something you can place upon yourself, but is shown by your actions and is the metric that the LGBT community uses to judge where you truly stand.
And to further complicate things, being supportive of the LGB part of the queer community doesn’t often make you instantly supportive of the transgender community. We see that very clearly with some even within the gay and lesbian community who actively work against the transgender community, as I will discuss. I talk about the issues surround Rowling’s gay representation in the Wizarding World, and I’ll link that up here and below, along with an article I wrote about it as well, so if you want my in-depth thoughts on that, check those out.
A wise man once said “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
No, the issues surrounding Rowling now are not that she has failed in some aspects of her allyship, but that she is actively against the transgender community. So let’s break down where this is coming from. So for a while now, JK Rowling has come under fire for multiple instances of where she has liked several transphobic comments on Twitter.
All of these liked comments are based around TERF, or trans exclusionary radical feminist ideology.
For those who many not know, TERFs, or rad fems or gender critical feminists as they call themselves, are mostly female and predominantly but not exclusively lesbians, who reject the idea of trans women as women. They assert that “real women” are only those born with both a vagina and XX chromosomes, and that trans women are just men who fetished womanhood and have mutilated themselves and, if they have sex with women are rapists because they have “tricked” those women. They typically also only frame womanhood in terms of women’s oppression by men.
Truly, whom amongst us can forget Trump ordering the killing of bin Laden? Or Obama bragging about barging in on naked beauty contestants? pic.twitter.com/1veorstvA0— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) July 27, 2017
You have a penis at any point in your life, you’re a man, and therefore an oppressor. TERFs believe that transgender people remove necessary conversations “real women” in disucssions of aboration or sexism, completely igorning the facts like that trans men are directly impacted by abortion rights, trans women are also often extremly vocal in in working with cis women to fight for abortion rights, and that trans women and men often deal with similar sexism, dicrimination, misoginy, and drastically more so in some situations. TERFs also typically alline themselves with the far-right or at least conservative parties in order to specifically attack the transgender community, and many have resorted to doxxing, trolling, picketing and generally abusive behavior towards trans people. The TERF community is also very strong within the United Kingdom, where JK Rowling calls home, and have been known to actively stop Pride Parades and be generally very dangerous to the British transgender community. There’s honestly a lot to break down when it comes to TERFs, and I can’t do it all in this video, so if you’re curious as to why TERF ideology is harmful to women, I would recommend Riley J. Dennis’ fantastic video that I’ll link above that gives a great summary of TERFs in greater detail.
Back to JK Rowling, fans found that Rowling had liked many of tweets from TERFs, including several that specifically expressed the extremely harmful and disgusting argument that “trans women are rapists” just by virtue of being transgender. Now Rowling’s representative explained “I’m afraid JK Rowling had a clumsy and middle-aged moment and this is not the first time she has favorited by holding her phone incorrectly.”
That argument is obviously incredibly weak for numerous reasons. First, you’re telling me Rowling keeps hitting the like button accidentally on the same types of tweets? A bit hard to buy. On top of that, if you notice, it doesn’t actually address the issue at hand, refusing to state if she does or does not support these views.
Even further, just this week it was discovered that Rowling has followed on Twitter several notable transphobic and TERF twitter accounts, including following Magdalen Berns, a “self-professored transphobe” YouTuber who has numerous transphobic videos and tweets, including one where she called transgender people “blackface actors”.
So again, when reporters reached out to Rowling to comment on this, her representatives stated “JK Rowling won’t be commenting. However, we know she follows on twitter a wide range of people she finds interesting or thought-provoking.”
Them magazine published an investigation that ultimately concluded:
For a more alarming look at Rowling’s thought process when it comes to the trans community, it’s useful to examine a scene from her novel The Silkworm, published under the pen name Robert Galbraith. In the scene, a trans woman, Pippa, follows and tries to stab the protagonist, Cormoran Strike, before getting trapped in Strike’s office. After demanding Pippa’s ID, her trans status is revealed and her visible Adam’s apple is noted, while it’s noted that her hands were jammed in her pockets. Pippa tries several times to escape the office before Strike finally says, “‘If you go for that door one more time I’m calling the police and I’ll testify and be glad to watch you go down for attempted murder. And it won’t be fun for you Pippa,’ he added. ‘Not pre-op.’”
So is J.K. Rowling transphobic? In the U.K., where she lives, trans women have been repeatedly smeared as “male-bodied” or “parasites” and “men in women’s changing rooms” who “sacrifice children” and have a “demented grip on our society” in the wake of debate over reforms to the country’s Gender Recognition Act. The act itself controls the legal process for getting a Gender Recognition Certificate, which then allows for a change of sex on a birth certificate. It’s all but inevitable that Rowling would be exposed to these arguments in her home nation.
Ultimately, the answer is yes, she is transphobic, at least in the ways that so many average cisgender people can be. However, because she’s J.K. Rowling, creator of the best-selling book series of all time and an idol to so many LGBTQ+ children and now adults, she gets called out for it. I think it’s fair that she receives criticism from trans people, especially given her advocacy on behalf of queer people in general, but also because she has a huge platform. Many people look up to her for creating a singular piece of popular culture that holds deep meaning for fans from different walks of life, and she has a responsibility to handle that platform wisely.
Ultimately, it was British writer and trans woman Shon Faye who said it best when she tweeted, “Trans culture is seeing the beloved author of your generation like a transphobic tweet from a troll account which has repeatedly called you a man” before sharing a screenshot of that account harassing her for being trans. A white cis woman has shattered our trust and deeply disappointed us. But then again, we’re used to it.
So, here is why this whole controversy gets difficult to talk about, because it’s very easy to say “hey, you’re making a mountain out of mole hill. It’s only a few liked tweets and following doesn’t mean she gives tacit endorsement to everything the person says.” And that’s a completely and totally fair position. I myself followed right-wing creators and groups in order to get a feel for the conversations that are happening in those communities in order to stay educated and better address them in my own work. So it’s very conceivable that Rowling does that same.
But what I think is the most telling and damning is Rowling’s complete lack of a response. It takes so little to just make you point of view on the matter clear. Hell, even a simple tweet that says something like “I support trans people” would honestly at least put this whole issue in new context and light. But Rowling has consistently said nothing, instead having third parties give really half-hearted explaintations that say absolutely nothing about her viewpoint.
And by saying nothing, about her liking and following transphobic twitter content, and it’s such a huge story now she can’t not know. And there’s the run. it feels like she’s saying everything she needs to by saying nothing. It feels like she’s saying nothing to avoid the active mainstream controversy that would come from her saying something as definitive as “I don’t think trans women are women.” Yet she’s signaled her support through implication, which is a tactic often used by groups who actively work against the rights of another group. It’s not dissimilar to how Donald Trump dog whistle signals his supporters at least tacit endorsement of far-right ideology through coded language and false equivalencies.
Maya Angelou once famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
I’m not saying that JK Rowling is part of far-right. Clearly, her work, both in fiction and real-life makes that clear. I mean hell, Harry Potter is probably one of the least subtle but still deeply-nuanced discussions of facist ideologies in popular fiction. You can’t look at characters like Voldemort or Grindlewald and their ideology of purebloods over mudbloods and not see the parallels to the real world.
But that exact fact is exactly why this whole issue is so painful to me. She so clearly understands the historical tactics and ideologies used to dehumanize and demonize groups of people, exactly like TERFs do. How can you not see a common thread between “all muggle-born witches are filth” to something like “all trans women are rapists”? I’m not saying Rowling has to be a perfect ideal ally. That takes time, conversations and learning, as is clear with her work with gay representation in Harry Potter. Yet, when it comes to trans people, she has shown no outwards sign of support or even publicly expressed the desire to learn more.
I hope I’m wrong. I really do. Because truly JK Rowling has perhaps been on the biggest inspirations and influences on me since I was a child. Harry Potter has gotten me through a lot of tough times of depression. I would listen to the Harry Potter audiobook and movies just to find solace in a world that spoke to me during times where I needed an escape from the pain I was feeling. Honestly, even right now, I’m honestly going through some really really difficult life stuff right now that has honestly been incredibly difficult for me. And one of the ways that helps me cope during the darkest hours at night when my brain likes to be it’s most critical is falling asleep to the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermonie.
They, along with Dumbledore, Hagrid, and so many others in the wizard world are my friends. Hell, my cat is literally named Newt after Newt Scamander. I don’t like those movies, but I love seeing the representation of a neurodivergent Hufflepuff like myself played by a man who has starred in a notable trasgender film.
I desperately wish that JK Rowling is still a friend to me as a trans person.
JK Rowling, I’m telling you right here right now, the transgender community needs to you stand with us. I need you. I truly do. You have no idea what it would mean to me, even at 27 years-old, to see you stand up for my right to exist as I am. My right to live as a person that makes me happy, to live a life that feels worth living. You are my friend. Yet, in your own words, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” So here I am, telling you that right now, you aren’t being a good friend. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late.”