The recent social media backlash against J.K. Rowling is proof that nobody – not even the architect of the most beloved magical universe for generations of children – is exempt from re-evaluation today.
The Harry Potter author has found herself at the centre of a Twitter storm and a heated transphobia debate.
The controversy comes amidst an attempt by the Trump government to restrict and ban transgender rights. Yesterday, the Supreme Court undercut the attempt, and ruled in favour of a landmark civil rights law that protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. The ruling will most likely have far-reaching positive impacts on other transgender rights.
J.K. Rowling Faces Intense Backlash For Comment With Transphobic Connotations
The controversy started with J.K. Rowling tweeting in response to an article that spoke of “creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate”.
Rowling found fault in the phrase “people who menstruate”, saying “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
The comment prompted immediate anger for having transphobic implications.
The criticism is that there are people assigned male at birth, having transitioned into women – who do not menstruate, but are still very much women. Similarly, people assigned female at birth and transitioning to men, do menstruate – but do not identify as women. There are numerous women who identify as women but due to medical conditions or IUDs, do not menstruate.
Rowling’s comment has been criticised for tying the identity of womanhood to menstruation, and dismissing the lived realities of transgender people.
Rowling responded to the criticism saying, “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.”
What Rowling fails to see is that the backlash doesn’t intend to “erase the concept of sex”, but established its distinction from gender.
Sex is a biological construct, while gender is a social one. A person’s gender today is not necessarily defined by their sex. While a person’s sex may determine whether they menstruate or not, it does not determine their gender – whether they identify as a woman or a man.
Several high profile names, including cast members from the Harry Potter film franchise, have spoken out against Rowling’s views.
Daniel Radcliffe wrote, “Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I. It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.”
He went on to acknowledge how this turbulent reality might have destroyed the magical fantasy of Harry Potter for many. “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you,” he said.
Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Evanna Lynch, and Eddie Redmayne, are among the other cast members who have established that their views differ from that of Rowling’s.
Trans Activists Support J.K. Rowling After Misogynistic Reporting About Her
The criticism has been followed by a call to “cancel” Rowling and purchase of Harry Potter books, films, or merchandise. Fans have long criticised Rowling for the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in the Harry Potter universe, and the recent Twitter storm seems to be the final straw for many.
Amidst her “cancelling”, Rowling took to her personal blog to write about ‘Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues’. The justifications for her comments once again came off as tone-deaf to most; in the post, however, Rowling also revealed that she was a survivor of sexual assault and domestic abuse.
This was followed by a front-page interview with her ex-husband published in the Sun the next day, headlined – “I slapped J.K. and I’m not sorry.”
Once again, misogyny – a gendered phenomenon – has taken away from whatever little constructive and healthy debate on trans issues that Rowling’s controversial tweet had inspired online.
Trans and non-binary activists have written a public letter in support of Rowling, saying they disagree with her views but “stand alongside J.K. Rowling in this cruel and malicious reporting, which sends a dangerous message to all survivors that their stories are only valid when corroborated by their abusers.”
You Cannot “Expelliarmus” A Person, Their Identity, Or Their Opinion Away
Change and progress is slowly but surely coming – as has been established by yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in favour of trans rights in USA. Regressive and discriminatory comments from celebrated and idolised individuals like Rowling are irresponsible, and can hamper this progress. Re-evaluating her pedestalization, especially in the minds of young fans, can be healthy.
However, cancel culture has proven, time and again, to be toxic and harmful.
Misogynistic reporting cannot take away from Rowling’s past rooted in gendered violence and sexual assault, and Rowling cannot take away the gendered realities and identities of people.
Bullying someone into changing their opinion will never yield positive results. Call out harmful opinions without demanding “cancellation” of the people who hold them. Open constructive communication of opinions, and always be open to re-evaluating your own.
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