By Elanor Leman
Image description: An image of J.K. Rowling looking straight into the camera, with her left hand resting on the side of her face. She wears a blue shirt, and the background is grey.
Amidst a sea of protests and outrage at racially motivated police brutality across the United States, echoed across the rest of the world, noted author and erstwhile philanthropist J K Rowling is making the news. However, rather than lending her significant reach and clout to support these causes, she had a different subject in mind when she took to Twitter yesterday.
Image description: A tweet from J.K. Rowling’s Twitter account, which reads “’People who menstruate.’ I am sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?
Image description: A tweet from J.K. Rowling’s Twitter account, which reads “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
Her views here neglect the realities that menstruation is experienced by some trans men and non-binary people, and further, not by all women, cis or otherwise. Whilst claiming to “know and love trans people,“ she then espouses the claim that trans people aim to “erase” the concept of sex and thus womanhood, in an attack on women. But of course, “if” trans people were discriminated against, she’d march with us. That last one particularly stings.
Rowling has a history of transphobic views, having grown the temerity to express them over the past few years – from claiming to have ‘accidentally’ like a tweet referring to “men in dresses” in 2018 to broadcasting her support for Maya Forstater in an employment tribunal in late 2019.
Image description: A screenshot of a tweet liked by J.K. Rowling’s Twitter account. The tweet reads “I was shouted at by men at my first Labour Party meeting aged 18 because I asked them to remove a Page 3 calendar. I’ve been told to toughen up, be louder, stronger, independent. I’ve often not felt supported. Men in dresses get brocialist solidarity I never had. That’s misogyny!”
In the latter issue, Forstater claimed that her contract was not renewed on account of her anti-trans views, and together with Rowling claimed to stand for the side of free speech. The judge, however, struck down the argument as “absolutist,” “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating” and “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
There must, then, be an awareness on Rowling’s part that her views are not particularly favoured by large portions of society – to say nothing of mainstream science. But to this author’s mind, she has gradually embraced transphobia, becoming a fully-fledged TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). Although in frequent use, it’s worth noting that the term is not without criticism; on trans peoples part, that such figures are more appropriating feminist terminology or clinging to outdated feminist theory than genuinely involved with good faith in such movements. To Rowling, the descriptor is apparently a slur.
Image description: A tweet from J.K. Rowling’s Twitter account, which reads “’Feminazi’, ‘TERF’, ‘bitch’, ‘witch’. Times change. Woman-hate is eternal.”
Whilst I can by no means speak for all trans people, the idea that we have some concerted agenda to destroy the idea of womanhood is utter nonsense – as is the idea that such a tiny and disadvantaged group could do so. I think it would be nice if people learnt about the difference between sex and gender, but I don’t think it would be possible to remove such concepts from society, and I am certainly not trying to. Nor am I trying to assert that either does not significantly impact one’s life – indeed, as a trans woman, I am all too aware of that reality. We are just trying to live as our authentic selves, with the medical care and civil rights afforded to everyone else.
Rowling, to this author’s understanding, seems to be misunderstanding trans activism, perhaps deliberately, to push her own narrative of inverted oppression. I can only imagine that there is an underlying bigotry at play on her part – echoes of laughing at men in dresses, except now we’re apparently villains trying to remove women’s rights. Her views are unsupported by the scientific or community consensus. Her stories have taught a generation to fight against injustice and discrimination, and now she seems intent on undermining that legacy by punching down at a marginalised group through increasingly thinly veiled hate speech.
It’s unfortunate – I quite liked those books as a child. This isn’t the place for an essay on the separation between problematic artist and art, but one has to wonder how this story ends, and if Rowling is destined to become the next Orson Scott Card or H.P. Lovecraft.
Elanor wrote a thesis on dealing with prejudice in Lovecraft through adaptation. She’s very tired.
Image courtesy of jkrowling.com.