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She Who Must Not Be DeadNamed: JK Rowling’s Transphobia Row

The most recent developments in JK Rowling’s struggle with the LGBTQ+ community broadens her scope away from simply defending supposed ‘women’s rights’ in the face of ‘trans activists’. 

TW: Transphobia

On the 21st March, Rowling mocked the UK South Wales Police twitter defending their LGBTQ+ community outreach programme from claims of ‘virtue signalling’. Virtue signalling is a criticised form of activism where an individual makes their own moral correctness heard, often doing little to support a real cause. Rowling commented with the typo, read as ‘virtual signalling’, saying it was “Like virtue signalling, but for people who aren’t really arsed.

This particular instance has been criticised for ignoring the context behind the community outreach and taking issue with a harmless activity intended to recruit more LGBTQ+ police officers and offer advice on dealing with queer related issues such as staying safe amid a rise in hate crimes across the UK. This particular event took place close to the site of Dr. Gary Jenkins tragic murder last year where his killers were found guilty of attacking him based on his sexuality.

Furthermore, Scottish actor David Paisley revealed that Rowling follows controversial group FairCop on Twitter. FairCop is an organisation that threatened to follow legal action against police forces across the UK if they were present in pride marches as they were ‘political’. 

Rowling has been missing from the reunion event marking decades of Harry Potter, potentially because this is not the first time J.K. Rowling has come under fire for causing concern and sparking backlash from LGBTQ+ people. This saga began in June 2020 with a retweet, criticising the wording of ‘people who menstruate’ in an opinion article, asking “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”.

Understanding Rowling’s views on transgender people is naturally complicated due to the political tension surrounding the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Sociologists typically identify these terms as distinct from each other with ‘sex’ associated with primary and secondary characteristics of reproductive system, height and elements of masculinity. However, ‘gender’ is defined differently as an expression of self relative to the spectrum of masculine and feminine that is created by a society. Still keeping up?

Rowling attempted to explain her views in following tweets saying she ‘loves’ and is ‘empathetic’ towards transgender people, that she views them as similarly ‘vulnerable’ to women with male violence. However, she soon tweeted an article from The Velvet Chronicle, stating the LGBT community is an “abusive parent” and “funded superpower” that “instils fear”. A bit of a change of tone here.

This trend continued with Rowling’s essay ‘TERF Wars’ solidifying her position in this debate. She first attempted to explain why she supported Maya Forstater, who was fired for transphobic transgressions in the workplace such as deadnaming and misgendering a colleague, and why she followed Magdalen Burns, who compared trans women to ‘blackface’ actors, that they weren’t ‘real’ women and they simply expressed themselves as such because of ‘perversions’. 

Any abuse J.K Rowling has received as a result of these views is unacceptable. This still does not give excuse for the adding to the difficulties transgender people face, further inflaming tensions by proposing herself as “…worried about the dangers to young people, gay people and about the erosion of women’s and girl’s rights” when supporting transgender people does not erode women’s or girl’s rights. Rowling’s 2020 book Troubled Blood has not helped her image either as the serial killer within the novel is a cisgendered man that dresses as a woman in order to hunt and murder other cisgender women. 

The debate promises to only become more complicated with more figures joining, including Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, who stated “Trans women are women” and that they are protected under the Equality Act. Following this statement, Rowling said that the Labour Party could not be trusted with women’s issues because of their pro-trans stance. Rowling is not unsupported either. Hagrid’s actor Robbie Coltraine gave his support for Rowling, saying us youngsters on the internet are too busy looking to be offended and that we ‘wouldn’t have won the war’. Really?

All in the wizarding world is not lost, however. Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron themselves have come out against Rowling. Daniel Radcliffe released a statement alongside The Trevor Project apologising to fans who feel the series has been tainted since the comments, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint agreed unequivocally; “Trans women are women. Trans men are men”. Emma Watson further showed her support for the trans community during the 2022 BAFTAs when she proudly claimed “I’m here for all the witches” (Rowling has often used the term witch to describe TERF activists).

The current debate around women’s and transgender rights is fraught, and Rowling is not helping by giving voice to groups that can be seen as offensive. This is a complicated issue and BathTime will bring you updates as they come out.

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