Today is J.K. Rowling’s 55th birthday, but it might not be the most peaceful day for the woman formerly known as the World’s Most Beloved Author. She’s at the center of a fierce squall, accused of being as intolerant as the Malfoy family, but instead of disdaining Mudbloods and Muggles, her issue is with trans-women.
The backlash has gotten so fierce that even Harry Potter and Hermione Granger themselves (Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, of course) have rebuked her, other authors have quit the literary agency that also represents Rowling, staff members at her publishing company tried to boycott working with her, Harry Potter fan sites have denounced her, and a school has dropped its plans to name a building for her. You’d think she had turned into Voldemort himself.
The Heart of the Controversy
The issue apparently started with a tweet by Rowling last December that supported a woman who had a history of making comments considered transphobic. “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you,” Rowling wrote to her 14 million Twitter followers. “Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?” Many interpret the phrase “sex is real” to mean that one’s biological sex is immutable.
Rowling didn’t stop there, however. In June, she mocked an article that talked about people who menstruate, setting off another uproar. Then she wrote a blog post almost as long as Book 7, justifying her views. It is almost impossible to summarize the post, but one salient point is that her history as a domestic violence survivor, she is worried about exposing women in spaces that used to be safe.
“So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe,” she wrote. “When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman—and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones—then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.”
In July, she tweeted her concern about young people being “shunted towards” hormones and surgery that may not be in their best interests, and comparing the measures to “conversion therapy,” referring to programs that try to turn people away from same-sex attraction.
The response was immediate and ferocious. “J.K. Rowling is not a scientist. She is not a doctor. She is not an expert on gender,” transgender model and activist Munroe Bergdorf responded. “She is not a supporter of our community. She is a billionaire, cisgender, heterosexual, white woman who has decided that she knows what is best for us and our bodies. This is not her fight.”
Others wondered why Rowling would use her celebrity to push this agenda, as if trans people were a direct threat her. “I don’t know, this kind of thinking baffles me because no one is trying to hurt you, personally, Joanne. But people are killing members of the trans community, so maybe get your head out of your ass,” wrote Rachel Leishman on the website The Mary Sue.
Even the usually fawning fan sites could take no more. “We find the use of her influence and privilege to target marginalized people to be out of step with the message of acceptance and empowerment we find in her books,” wrote the editors of The Leaky Cauldron.
We suspect Rowling would like a vanishing spell (at least for this one special day) for the whole mess. But in real life, “evanesco,” just isn’t going to cut it.