JK Rowling is one of the most successful authors of all time with her hit book series you may recognise, Harry Potter. Her huge influence on the general public and her millions of fans is undeniable, but in recent years she has taken this influence and her Twitter account to promote ideas and notions that many consider transphobic, including me.
I was inspired to write this after a conversation with some of my friends who thought what JK Rowling had said wasn’t necessarily hateful towards trans people, she just disagreed with certain lifestyle choices. But after showing her past tweets and explaining how this affects how trans people are seen as a whole, I managed to convince them otherwise. Rowling’s views only promote further misunderstanding, fear, and hatred towards the trans community. It only inspires people to take away trans people’s long-fought-for rights in the name of ‘protecting the children’ a similar argument that has been and is currently being used to question LGBT rights as a whole.
I myself have never read the Harry Potter books (simply watched the movies), but many LGBT+ people my age and above found solace in those books growing up where a boy who didn’t fit in found somewhere he truly belonged, a narrative that relates to many LGBT people. So of course, when the community became aware of Rowling’s views many were heartbroken. But why does JK Rowling think this way, especially with her having many liberal-leaning beliefs of racial and gender equality, does she really draw such a harsh line for transwomen?
How it started: Maya Forstater
Many don’t know how JK Rowling was called transphobic in the first place and think it was merely due to her stating that your sex is biologically determined, but it’s more than just that.
It all started in December 2019, when JK Rowling defended Maya Forstater who was fired from her job at a poverty think tank (Centre for Global Development), due to her numerous transphobic tweets and conversations on Slack. One example being where she repeatedly misgenders Credit Suisse senior director Pips Bunce, who identifies as gender fluid. Despite this, Forstater refers to them as, “a white man who likes to dress in women’s clothes” and “a part-time cross dresser“. She also tweeted, “I think that male people are not women.” Even in Slack, Forstater continued to express her views — “women are adult human females” and that “transwomen are male” which in her words are “basic biological truths,” and “‘transwomen are women'” is one of a number of “literal delusions.”
After these numerous conversations and tweets made on her professional account, a staff member made a complaint to management about her transphobic behaviour which launched an investigation. When her contract ended in December, it was not renewed, and she tried to sue her company. Even throughout the case, she continued to make further transphobic tweets, comparing proper pronoun use to a date rape drug, and even as part of her complaint she insisted that it was impossible to change or lose your sex; that girls grow up to be women, boys grow up to be men and there was nothing that could change that, despite the UK’s Gender Recognition Act. Her main defence was that her belief in rigid gender and sex should fall under the Equality Act that protects freedom of religious belief. She lost the case mostly due to the Gender Recognition Act and the fact that many Christian organisations do support trans-people’s identities, the Judge Tayler ruled, “I conclude from this, and the totality of the evidence, that the Claimant is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” Regardless of your own beliefs it’s not right for an employee to make her co-workers uncomfortable even after being told to stop, place her company in an undesirable position (turning away potential donations from trans clients), or to be outright rude and disrespectful and ignore UK law.
And of course, JK Rowling takes this opportunity to tweet her support for Forstater.
While this tweet alone doesn’t seem too bad, when taking into context of Forstater’s true beliefs and her behaviours in a professional environment, this speaks quite a bit on how extreme JK Rowling’s views are, but it would not be long until she herself showed how rigid and absolutist her views on gender and sex really were.
In 2021 Forstater’s case was reviewed/appealed and the belief that sex and gender are the same is now protected under the Equality Act 2010, but the Judge states that misgendering will remain unlawful.
JK Rowling’s Tweets
Since the Forstater situation and writing an entire piece on her views and consequentially receiving Twitter hate, she has been making and liking transphobic and TERF related tweets ever since. From unfollowing Stephen King after he tweeted that “transwomen [were] women” to comparing hormone therapy to antidepressants.
There’s this Twitter thread for example where she spoke about the death threats she had received but also used transmedicalist arguments (which completely invalidates trans and non-binary people who don’t suffer from gender dysphoria) to support her beliefs.
While I don’t support death threats being thrown JK Rowling’s way or trans rights activist’s violence towards TERFs, neither experiences should be used as a way to invalidate the reality of the trans experience. Notice how whilst Rowling mentions this violence and disrespect, she will also mention anti-trans information alongside it.
Like how she actively discourages allowing children to transition due to the possible medical risk of puberty blockers and hormone therapy. When it comes to children transitioning, it’s a hard topic to discuss as a cis woman as I don’t know what it’s like to experience difficulties with my gender identity or gender dysphoria. But neither does JK Rowling, nor any other cis person who’s not a doctor. The Metro Youth Chances Report (2014) found that 2 in 5 trans young people (aged 16-25) realised they were trans at 11 years old or under and many trans people, psychologists, doctors and the UK and U.S law support transitioning with the help of puberty blockers and hormonal therapy. It’s a way not only to treat gender dysphoria, which can often be debilitating, but to also help trans people live a more fulfilling life in the future. The process of getting accepted for such therapy, especially for children, is not as easily accessible as people like Rowling think. The child would have to attend countless counselling sessions and the parents are fully informed about side effects and symptoms. Puberty blockers are used as a way to give the child more time to make sure that they would like to undergo hormonal therapy, and only in their late teens when they are more cognitively developed will they make the choice to either proceed with hormonal therapy or stop the entire process, go off puberty blockers and resume regular puberty. Here is a factsheet on what the UK law allows for people and minors transitioning.
As far as I’ve researched there is little risk with puberty blockers, and it’s used for other medical conditions. Hormonal therapy can have some adverse effects but for a trans-person the pros far outweigh the cons. And for many trans-people the options were to transition or live a life of misery and possibly commit suicide, so the importance of transitioning should not be taken as lightly as JK Rowling does. She is spreading information that most psychiatrists would disagree with. It’s also important to understand that JK Rowling isn’t saying this as a concern for trans kids, she’s saying this to try and validate her points that being trans isn’t a real thing which many of her other tweets show and that trans-people are harming children (a tactic often used by the right-wing to villainise certain minority groups especially the LGBT).
If you scroll through JK Rowling’s Twitter page even now, you’ll see countless tweets expressing views against transitioning and her support for TERFs and their beliefs.
Now you’re probably wondering what TERFs are and how they relate to JK Rowling. I will first start that it seems to me and others that JK Rowling is indeed a TERF as she subscribes to their beliefs, uses their arguments, and has liked numerous posts from known TERFs.
TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist and is a term used by mostly trans and LGBT allies to describe feminists who are transphobic. People who are labelled as TERFs more often self-identify as ‘Gender Critical’, and if you type this into your search engine, you’re likely to happen upon their forums and pages.
Allison Bailey vs Stonewall
Allision Bailey, who has been identified by many to be a TERF, is the founder of LGB alliance, a charity and action group fighting for the equality and rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people but notably not trans-people. The group and Allison Bailey have clashed with Stonewall over their different views on gender and Bailey is currently in the process of suing Stonewall. JK Rowling during lesbian visibility week tweeted in support of Bailey.
After Linda Riley the founder of Lesbian Visibility week accused JK Rowling, stirring up hate in the community and further commenting that she ‘stands with Stonewall’, Rowling made this tweet.
So… yeah JK Rowling is definitely transphobic, maybe not in the extreme sense of wanting trans-people to be thrown into conversion camps, but her equating biological sex with personal gender identity and her support for many TERF/gender critical people definitely show her misunderstanding of trans-people and hostility towards trans allies. She also proports that trans-people and activists are actively harming children, a view that is not only false but serves to increase fear and hatred towards the trans community. Views like JK Rowling’s are what are holding the LGBT+ community behind, and not only endangers trans-people but also serves to push people towards more extremist and right-wing political positions which, in the end, is bad for everyone.
And all I can say to TERFs regardless of their misunderstanding of trans-people and what gender is, don’t we as feminists have bigger problems? In recent years women’s rights have been under constant question and attack by right-wing supporters and most recently in the U.S, the Supreme Court has drafted to overturn Roe v. Wade. An important law that not only protects people’s abortion rights across The States but also protects all Americans’ rights to medical privacy. For a long time, feminism has been exclusionary of many minorities and their individual struggles like women who are ethnic minorities, religious women, and especially now transwomen. It’s important for feminists to unite and create a truly inclusive space in order for us to better push for gender equality and defend our rights as women.