J.K. Rowling: The Blatant Transphobia Of A Beloved Social Justice Hero
In case you are one of the very few needing a reminder, Harry Potter is the titular character in a series of seven bestselling books that took the world by storm. Spawning movies based on the material, toys, plays, spinoffs and even a themed attraction at Universal Studios. The mastermind behind the magic is J.K. Rowling, a 52 year old woman from England who changed the terrain of the literary landscape when, entrenched in crippling poverty, she scribbled the synopsis for a book about a child wizard on a napkin in a local coffee shop. That was where it all began.
The story of the little Wizard that would rise to defeat the very embodiment of oppression, intolerance and evil embedded itself so deeply in our culture that kids and adults alike found themselves bombarding the Official Website to ask the famous Sorting Hat- a talking hat which one places on their head as it determines which of the mystical Houses ensconced within the walls of the famous School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Hogwarts, they will be assigned to. It manifested a world where oddities, misfits and those who had been ‘othered’ by societal demands, expectations and traditions finally belonged… far away from the boring world of “Muggles;” A term used to define someone who possesses no magical capabilities. That’s not to be confused with the reference to “Mudbloods” which refers to an individual with one parent born of magical descendants and one parent who has no magical ability. Mudbloods often endure extreme prejudice in Rowling’s world. The word itself is leveraged a slur.
The Archenemy of Harry Potter is Lord Voldemort, who is obsessed with “Blood purity” and wishes to destroy all Muggles in order to claim dominion over both the magical and non magical world. He has his army of devout followers, known as “Death Eaters” who position themselves in places of influence in order to ensure he takes his seat as Ruler of all.
In many ways, the world of Harry Potter parallels our own. You have those bad guys with power and prestige versus the underdogs, those whose freedoms and civil rights are at risk. In every form and fashion, Harry Potter is an allegory, and perhaps more relevant today than when it was published two decades ago. There is a reason that many Harry potter fans identify as LGBT… it is one of the few pieces of literary fiction that provides us access and underscores the emotional and psychological trials of being an undesirable, an outcast.
In the afterglow of her mammoth success, J.K. Rowling became the darling of the literary world. A true rags-to-riches story, having once been a single mother receiving benefits to keep her head above water, she confessed that, at one of her lowest points, she had been diagnosed with depression and dealt with suicidal ideation. As Rowling slowly lifted the veil on her identity as the figure behind the iconic Harry Potter, the world found itself equally besotted and fascinated by the woman whose personal story so many of us related to and were consequentially inspired by. She was no longer this billionaire writer hovering three feet above ground, having found life’s golden ticket… she was humanized.
She also found herself becoming a central figure in international political discussions. She has used her platform to challenge Donald Trump over his radical policies, and is one of the most — and often to hilarious effect- retweeted authors on twitter. Her willingness to be vocal on a plethora of issues, often those targeting minorities has launched her to the frontlines of activism. She stood firmly against racism, when she was asked to defend the casting of a black actress in her play “Harry potter and The Cursed Child.”
The character of Hermione Granger, played for a decade in the films by Emma Watson, would be played on stage by Noma Dumezweni. Of course, the news brought racists crawling from the holes they occupy, spewing their venom and regurgitating each other’s words as loud minorities in a hive-mind usually do. As expected, J.K Rowling shut them down with the class and sophistication true to her British roots. Her words cut like a serrated blade, but she’s so polite about it that attackers apologize for getting their own blood on her dress afterwards.
Rowling inadvertently became the online hero of every disenfranchised community and she was unapologetic, whether in a heated debate with Piers Morgan or taking down anti-gay fans who screamed foul when she announced that her deeply revered character, the Head Master of Hogwarts and mentor to Harry Potter, Dumbledore, was a gay man. What more could we ask for in these trying times? In Rowling we had a powerful feminist, a gay icon, a champion for the underdogs… and apparently, a Transphobe who believes that Transgender women are “Men in dresses.”
“How does this happen?” I asked myself as my eyes lingered on a tweet that she liked debating the place of Transgender women in Britain’s Labour Party.
How does a woman who represents so much positivity and fearlessly wields her wand and words against misogyny, homophobia, racism, and all that makes this society sick, find herself in agreement with such a callous sentiment? Consider for a moment that the tweet itself originated from this lovely lady.
Who says things like this, regarding Transgender people.
To depart for just a moment- with respect to full disclosure, I have never read a Harry Potter book, nor have I seen the films. Regardless, it’s impossible to remain unaware of the phenomenon. It is an undeniable staple of modern pop culture. I have never seen the Kardashian’s show either, but I know more about them than I do my own neighbors. Sadly.
I do know who Rowling is, though, and I admired her as an artist; As a purveyor of all things good; A proverbial speck of light in an encroaching political darkness that she could have very well written about. As a writer myself, she was a beacon of hope. As a Trans person, I admired her decision to use her platform to reach across the boundaries of the Have and Have-Nots and provide us a line of defense that’s not typical of celebrities. Most are terrified of ruffling feathers or polarizing their fan base. I believed that Rowling had a distinct appreciation for the struggles we face here on the ground, and when she spoke it was not simple word-candy, but from an authentic place. Rowling had once been down here with rest of us who do the doggy paddle to stay afloat, all the while pleading for acceptance, inclusion and basic survival, lest we are swept away by the current of indifference.
It’s not the first time that someone has exhibited outspoken allegiance with women, people of color and gay men, but felt that embracing the Transgender community was stepping too far outside their comfort zone. We see it in politics all the time. There are those who supported the legalization of gay marriage, but those same people also feel Transgender individuals shouldn’t be allowed in public bathrooms. I didn’t expect to see J.K. Rowling reveal herself to be one of them.
It didn’t take long for her spokesperson to offer up an explanation.
“I’m afraid J.K. Rowling had a clumsy and middle-aged moment and this is not the first time she has favourited by holding her phone incorrectly.” — Representative for J.K. Rowling to PinkNews
It happens. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been laying in bed, casually swiping through Facebook on my phone as I balance it over my face and accidentally liked a status of someone saying their dog died. I’ve never accidentally liked a twitter status though, because I don’t follow people whose world views are exclusive to a cis-hetero society. But, it’s completely possible.
Yet, it would be unfair to accuse Rowling of guilt by association, given her only foul was putting her stamp of approval on the words of others. Aside from the “Whoopsie” dismissal by her representative, Rowling, herself, has made no statement with respect to the repeated incidents of liking transphobic content. Repeated, I say? Yes.
Among her history remains another anti-trans article that Rowling must have butt-liked. The article, entitled “Me Too, Now What? (Sex, The Left ad Gender Identity)” contains this passage regarding Transgender women in bathrooms, using rape, or fear of it, as an excuse to discriminate.
“And so it is in this context that I would like to consider why so many men on the left refuse to accept women’s concerns about the new gender identity law that will allow any male to access women’s sex segregated spaces, regardless of presentation, or hormonal/surgical status. You have read our painful disclosures, our universal cries of me too! You have had a taste of what it might be like to try to navigate a male dominated world as a woman, and of how a socially conditioned fear of male bodies might ingrain itself. You have read the stories at the thinner end of the wedge, the ones we can stand to share, and have judged them harrowing. So tell us again how our desire to retain our safe spaces and sex based rights are bigoted and unreasonable? Tell us again how we should willingly get changed next to a stranger with a penis while focusing on ensuring our fearful body language doesn’t make them feel uncomfortable. Explain to us how you reconcile your smears of TERF and fascist with your dismay at how we are continually treated by male bodied people.”
Making things more dubious as I pondered whether or not Rowling was, in fact, transphobic, I discovered this passage, written by herself under the name Robert Galbraith.
Robert Galbraith is the pseudonym used by Rowling to write material beyond the boundaries of the Harry Potter Universe she created back in 1997. In her book, The Silkworm, one in a series of books that, like Potter, features the same character, a detective named Cormoran Strike, she writes;
”If you go for that door one more fucking 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 inside, Pippa,’ he added. ‘Not pre-op.” — Except from The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling
There is a problem when cis authors write content, in this case, emboldened by the facade of a male writer, to exploit the concepts of Transness to sensationalize or demean us. J.K. Rowling has demonstrated over and over again that she is well aware of the social conditions for minorities and the hostility perpetuated against us by rhetoric like this. Would she write such a remark about a gay man or a lesbian woman? No. I don’t believe she would. She remains conscious to the plight of those specific communities and leaps to their defense given any opportunity, only to be lifted up, practically knighted as an ally… which clearly comes with an anti-trans clause.
I’m tremendously disappointed there was also no apology or direct communication from Rowling. She’s never been without words before now. She didn’t take to her twitter, where over 14 million people hang off her inspirational quotes and beautifully constructed slap-downs, to say “I’m sorry.” Sending a representative to explain the faux pas feels extremely disingenuous.
It’s the equivalent of someone shitting on your lawn and then they leave a note with the neighbor kid that just says “I had diarrhea.” That, coupled with the revelation that liking this brand of content isn’t just an error, but a pattern instead… and that she has, indeed, used aspects of being Transgender against us in her literary efforts have many classifying her as a TERF- A Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist.
If the hat fits…