Please Shut Up About JK Rowling
JK Rowling has been in the headlines for three reasons recently; something she tweeted, the Guardian’s Person of the Year poll, and the Harry Potter reunion special. As a trans woman, you often get accused of being obsessed with JK Rowling, so I want to establish that there are three significant reasons she has been constantly in the press recently, and asking you all, once and for all, to shut up about her. Please. With a new Harry Potter movie and video game out next year, please heed this call.
I – and many, many others – have already written about this before, but since people love to ask ‘how is JK Rowling even transphobic?’ I’m going to link to three different sources which explain that for you. Never mind one of her novels features a trans villain in an incredibly outdated trope.
Related: Hogwarts Legacy’s Transgender Character Creator Changes NothingHere’s the kicker – I don’t think it matters if she is transphobic. She’s more complex than the internet considers. She is aligned to left wing politics on basically every other major issue in her ideology, and has previously said that trans women are women and that trans rights are human rights. These last two statements, of course, have come with the rapid follow-up that cisgender women (often called ‘natal women’ by JK Rowling) matter more, but still. She is not frothing at the mouth about trannies in the fashion of Graham Linehan.
Rowling has also been quick to point out the amount of abuse she receives, complaining that one man told her he was going to compost her books. Other people have burned them. Because transphobes – whether you think JKR is one or not, clearly they exist – love to rush to extremes, the idea that someone has burned a Harry Potter book means we’re returning to Nazi Germany. Not only is this offensive on the level of anti-vaxxers comparing themselves to Jews with the yellow star, it’s also monumentally stupid. That famous photo of the Nazis buring a huge pile of books? It’s outside the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft – they were burning the books specifically to destroy decades of research into trans people.
Of course, Rowling has also pointed out the more personal, more misogynist abuse she has received. Again, I don’t think Rowling is an irredeemable monster. I don’t think anything is solved by calling her a bitch, or worse. The problem is that this is a verbally violent issue on both sides.
I don’t think anyone should be tweeting JK Rowling saying “you’re a massive cunt I hope you die,” but I also don’t think I should be called a paedophile degenerate rapist by her followers. And yet I am. And she never says anything about it. If the above sources aren’t enough for you to understand why JK Rowling gets labelled a transphobe, the fact she has frequently called out abuse against her supporters but never tried to dissuade them from spouting vitriol in return, means many of us resent how she has tacitly endorsed them.
This is where the Guardian’s Person of the Year poll comes into it. The Guardian, a left leaning newspaper that still frequently platforms anti-trans columnists and rarely gives actual trans people a voice, has a Person of the Year much like Time’s, except it is voted for by the public – or more specifically, Guardian readers. “In a sign of the ongoing debate over gender issues, many readers also nominated the author JK Rowling,” reads the Guardian’s introduction. While other nominees have achieved specific things this year – Gareth Southgate for leading England to the Euro final for the first time in their history, Dame Sarah Gilbert for championing non-profit vaccines, Simone Biles for her openness on mental health in sport at the Olympics – JK Rowling is there because of her views on gender we’ve known for quite some time. Even her infamous TERF Wars blog post came out in 2020. She is the de facto mascot of the anti-trans movement, having been mentioned by various government officials around the world as they have pushed through anti-LGBT legislation. Guardian reader Michelle, 45, is the exact demographic of middle class women who have likely never met a trans person but still don’t like them very much, and she writes Rowling’s blurb, ending with “She is very inspiring for women and is supportive of women’s rights, despite people trying to drag her down.”
This is how the debate is always framed. JK Rowling says something, often wilfully controversial or in some cases as linked above, factually incorrect, and anyone who attempts to correct her is just a misogynist trying to pull her down. As a trans woman, I would simply be a man talking over a woman, to hear many of JK Rowling’s followers tell it. When men transition, we’re invading women’s spaces for our own sexual gain. When girls transition (and the language is always men and girls when her supporters discuss transition) they are being lured away by predatory men, or are being pushed into it by a patriarchal society.
As the creator of Harry Potter, JK Rowling is impossible to completely de-platform. I’m not even arguing that we should try. But when we offer this elevated status as the transphobe, we martyr her and embolden her and her followers. JK Rowling argues her first ‘like’ on Twitter that signaled her transphobia was an innocent slip of a thing she meant to bookmark. I don’t think that’s too difficult to believe. It feels like she has reacted to light but justified criticism by jumping onto the other team with both feet, ignoring the fact that lurking just outside the centre of her group, where concerned feminists rally for cisgender rights, she is surrounded by the worst sorts of fascists, homophobes, and legislators who are going after trans women as a proxy for all women, and once they have secured victory over trans people, next it is gay people, then cis women.
There was perhaps a time when JK Rowling could have been reached. There was a more reasonable way out of this for all of us. Now? Probably not. But we don’t need to act like everything she says is the end of the world. She wasn’t included in the Harry Potter special – aside from archive footage – because of how controversial she is. How you feel about her views on trans people is irrelevant; she is controversial. In some ways, she has deliberately made herself controversial, leaning into what is now her brand.
Earlier this month, just as she should have been promoting her Christmas children’s book, said Harry Potter special, and as the hype cycles for the new Harry Potter movie and game are about to begin, she tweeted “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman.” This ignores the fact that while rape is legally a man penetrating a woman, the law denotes that a woman who aids in rape, by coersion, trafficking, etc, can be charged with rape even if they are not “a penised individual” and did not physically commit rape themselves.
It doesn’t matter if you agree with her or not. That she regularly tweets things like this, allows herself to be held up as the mascot for the most extreme transphobes out there, and only ever calls out abuse against her supporters and never by them makes her extremely controversial. This is what life is going to be for her from now on. The Harry Potter special took place without her. I doubt she will have any role in Fantastic Beasts’ marketing. Hogwarts Legacy has already made it clear she is not involved in the game. No one wants anything to do with her.
She will maintain a fanbase. She will still be voted as person of the year by white, middle class Guardian readers whose biggest problem is those trans they’ve read so much about. But she will be forgotten, if we forget her. Trans art is on the rise. Laverne Cox, Kim Petras, Mj Rodriquez, Nikita Dragun, Elliot Page, Hunter Schafer, Jazz Jennings, Indya Moore, Chella Man, Elliot Fletcher… this is who the future belongs to. Let JK Rowling have the past. Leave her there.
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