CW: Discussions of transphobia, abuse, and sexual assault.
As I am sure many of you have now seen, J.K. Rowling has recently made some reprehensible comments about transgender people. This is not the first time she has said such hurtful things- her defence of transphobic women such as Maya Forstater and the 61 year old woman assaulted by Tara Wolf (while I don’t condone violence, it should be noted that Rowling deliberately neglected to mention that the 61 year old had repeatedly misgendered Wolf prior to the assault, and had used transphobic slurs against her), prove that she has always harboured problematic and transphobic views.
This is the last thing I will ever write about this author and her work on my blog. While I hope to one day be able to read Harry Potter again, as it currently stands I am not sure if I, like many readers, will ever be able to truly separate the author from her work, and I feel like it is unfair and harmful of me to keep including her fiction in recommendations I make to any followers. I cannot say how each single individual feels about her words and actions, but I don’t want to cause any further harm or trauma by dredging her up for those who want to distance themselves from her and her work entirely.
I should preface this by saying I am not transgender. I am not part of the LGBTQ+ community. I am a cisgendered woman, and I understand that I could not and should never attempt to speak for other groups. That’s hopefully not what I am doing here. But I want to speak personally as a feminist about some of the things that Rowling has said. And I want to speak out as an academic. Though my field is American Studies, I hope I know something about how academic research and conduct works by now (and if I don’t, my career will be over before it begins).
There are some brilliant articles and tweets out there that do a much better job than I can ever do. All I want to say is please do not support this author. I used to love Rowling. She was my idol. She was the reason I wanted to be an author since the age of seven. She introduced me to a world of magic and wonder. And I am sorry that this has likely blinded me to some of her problematic views and behaviours before now.
But, like many people, I cannot condone what she has said. Her attempts to turn the LGBTQ+ community and feminists against transgender people, as if only one group can gain rights at a time, is hurtful, wrong, and inexcusable. Her attempts to claim cisgender men will use transgender women to gain access to the ‘safe space’ of women’s bathrooms would be laughably wrong, if it wasn’t so disturbing. A sign on a door is not a magical ward, it is not a force field that will automatically repel someone with harmful intentions from gaining access to a room they’re not supposed to be in. There is no need for a man to ‘pretend to’ be a woman to gain access to a women’s bathroom. Telling trans women they should not have access to female bathrooms because women are concerned they might be attacked by cisgendered men ‘dressing up’ as women is transphobic– it belies a paranoia-like fear of trans women. It also mythologises trans women as dangerous and violent, terms which have often been used to stereotype men. It carries the assumption that trans women are not really women. They are. They absolutely are. Just as trans men are men, and non-binary people are non-binary, and gender fluid people are fluid.
Even the information on sex Rowling presents is wrong. Sex is not dimorphic, as she likes to claim. There are not two sexes. Scientifically, it has been proven that there are a range of sexes. It’s just that, as humans, we have been conditioned to look at a person and make assumptions based on female and male- the two sexes we are most familiar with. There is plenty of scholarly research on this, studies which have been peer-reviewed. Contrastingly, the one source Rowling does bother to cite in her article comes from Dr. Lisa Littman’s research on ‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria’. This article was widely criticised by fellow scientists at her own university for its flawed methodology. Littman had used transphobic sites to approach the parents of transgender children to complete her surveys, which inevitably led to skewed and biased findings. These issues with the work were incredibly problematic. Brown even had to revise the article. One scholar at the same university subsequently argued that even in the corrected version of the article, the “methods remain unchanged, flawed, and below scientific standards”.
This is the ‘scientific’ article Rowling claims to hinge her opinions around. This is her idea of research. At the beginning of Rowling’s article, she notes that she received many threats and gendered insults because of ‘wrongthink’, because she accidentally had a middle-aged moment where she liked a transphobic comment she was researching. She’s done this many times. A mistake is a one off incident, repeated behaviour is a choice.
Let’s be clear, she’s not researching the issues. She is existing in a bubble of people who agree with her own troubling opinions. Just like Flat Earthers, Rowling’s ‘research’ is woefully outdated and scientifically inaccurate, and yet she refutes any newer findings which do not back up what she’s said. This is not research. You should always go into a source asking questions- ‘Are these statistics true? Does this writer have anything to gain from making these claims? What other texts does this text reference? Which ones does it criticise/agree with?’ Rowling has not asked these questions. She had already formed her opinion before wading in.
Sending threats to Rowling is wrong. Calling her gendered insults like bitch and cunt is wrong (especially because they feed into her wrongful belief that trans people and trans allies are all misogynists). However, it should be noted that she opens up her arguments with this, in an attempt to juxtapose her ‘rational’ curiosity and researching, with the ‘violent’ and thought policing actions of those condemning her. Later, she also claims to have befriended Magdalen Burns, a woman Rowling refers to as “an immensely brave young feminist and lesbian who was dying of an aggressive brain tumour” in order to simply contact her. For reference, Burns has said some truly horrifying things about trans people, things I refuse to reiterate on here because they are so disgusting. Yet Rowling praises her, and claims she was “immensely brave.” I would be suspicious of the fact that Rowling chose to befriend someone so vitriolic in her hate, but if it is true she only became friends to get in touch with Burns, why did Rowling like some of her most horrendous tweets? Why did she choose to praise her? I can only imagine that she has done these things because she not only had a conversation with Burns, but because she agrees with what Burns has said about trans people.
The bit about TERFS is also mildly horrifying. The only people who should consider TERF- ‘Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminist’ an insult is the people who it applies to. Ironically, what I’ve personally found is that TERFS spend a lot of time claiming other people are misogynistic, and yet their continued attempts to paint women as vulnerable, helpless, and constantly in danger are just as sexist as some of the things I’ve seen incel communities state. TERFs are the problem, not trans people.
We probably won’t ever be able to ‘cancel’ J.K. Rowling. We can (and should) unfollow her, we can (and should) condemn her actions. Some of us will be able to keep reading her work, and others won’t. She will still be there, because unfortunately there are people who are now upholding her for trying to speak out for womanhood. She’s too powerful to likely ever be torn down. But we can turn our backs on her. We can sever her from her legacy, from her work. And slowly, over time, Rowling will hopefully fade into more and more obscurity. The best thing she ever wrote was also the first thing she ever wrote. The more people refuse to read and buy her newer work, the more inconsequential she becomes. The magic of her series belongs to us, the readers, not to her.
Rowling doesn’t speak for me as a feminist, or as a woman. What Rowling fails to grasp is that there is no ‘one experience’ of being a woman, there is no ‘homogeneous’ opinion held by all women.
And if you don’t agree with what I’ve said, if you think Rowling ‘isn’t all that bad’, feel free to hit the unfollow button on your way out.
Trans people will always be welcome on my blog. Please know that I love and respect all of you ❤