J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter series, has recently come under fire from transgender activists after posting a series of transphobic tweets. The tweets in question criticized inclusive rhetoric in a Debex article published in late May, titled “Creating a More Equal Post-COVID-19 World for People who Menstruate.” This article explored the disregard for “menstrual materials, safe access to toilets, soap, water, and private spaces” in the face of new lockdown living conditions. On Sat. June 7, Rowling tweeted out to her millions of followers in response to the article’s embracive language, saying, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
Following the release of this controversial tweet, many LGBTQIA+ activists came forward to condemn the children’s author for her history of controversial opinions concerning gender and sex. Many critics started referring to Rowling as a trans-exclusionary radical feminist or TERF. TERF views are known to deny the validity of trans identities and eliminate most LGBTQIA+ issues from the modern feminist movement. Like much of mainstream feminism, this aspect of the movement overlooks many communities by focusing on only increasing female privilege rather than fighting for rights as well as equality. Mikki Kendall, a renowned feminist author, defines mainstream feminism in her TIME magazine article as a movement that “frequently focuses on those who already have most of their needs met.”
In response to the aggressive backlash the author faced as a result of her tweets, she published a blog post on her website titled “J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues,” which many critics are calling a “transphobic manifesto.” Throughout this essay, Rowling cites five reasons for opposing trans activism, the most controversial being her claim that transitioning is a trend. She goes on to specify her concern for the erasure of the feminine experience and her fear of “males” infiltrating female restrooms.
Concerned with the “huge explosion in young women wishing to transition,” Rowling believes the prospect of gender reassignment has become somewhat of a social trend among young teens. Citing American physician Lisa Lettman, Rowling states that “social contagion and peer influences are potential factors” in realizing gender identity. Although Rowling believes these sentiments conjoin to viewing gender from a biological standpoint, these harmful ideas ridicule the trans experience of self-understanding and recognition, liquidating the genuine nature of identity in the trans community.
She goes on to write that many women are resorting to sexual reassignment to escape female adversity, asserting, “if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition. The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge.” Statements such as this function as a way to erase gender confusion’s legitimacy, allowing the spread of misinformation about the transgender community and deeming transitioning to be a fad rather than an integral need.
Later on in the blog post, the children’s author voices her scorn for inclusive rhetoric that has become more common among the queer community. Examples of such rhetoric would be “people who menstruate” or “people with vulvas,” mostly used to provide visibility for different identities and to encompass cisgender women, transgender men, and the non-binary community. Contrary to the meaning behind these phrases, Rowling affirms in her essay that they are comparable to sexist slurs that perpetuate anti-feminist microaggressions. To Rowling, using inclusive language “strikes many women as dehumanizing and demeaning,” and that such dialect “erodes the female experience’s versatility.”
In the concluding tier of her essay, Rowling professes her anger in light of policy reform in the Scottish government regarding gender recognition. In December of 2019, these reforms were made to make the process of legally changing gender easier by no longer requiring sexual reassignment surgery or the use of hormones, making it more accessible to the broader trans community. Rowling addresses this by stating, “The government is playing fast and loose with women and girls’ safety,” as she believes allowing trans women into public restrooms will bolster sexual assault rates. As a survivor of sexual assault, the author expressed her concerns with “throw[ing] open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman.” Using these ideas to represent the whole of the trans community, Rowling promotes a predatory stereotype that is an integral part of transphobic discrimination and adversity.
Although Rowling affirms that she “know[s] and love[s] many trans people,” her misunderstanding of gender fluidity and identity tarnishes her message that she supports the trans community. She uses her platform to perpetuate harmful stereotypes that hold back progress for modern-day inclusivity.
(Sources: NBC News, Devex, jkrowling.com)