Could someone please, for the love of God, teach J.K. Rowling how to read the room?
Over the weekend, as protests calling for the protection of black lives spread across the world, the Harry Potter author took a moment to fire off a transphobic tweetstorm mocking the use of non-gendered language and insisting that “erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.” And on Wednesday, hours after yet another Harry Potter actor disavowed her comments, Rowling tripled down in a blog post that attempts to characterize her views as feminism. In reality, it’s a rhetorical dumpster fire—an almost exhaustive collection of the bigoted dogwhistles that put trans people in danger every day.
Rowling’s weekend rant is only the latest instance in which fans and critics have called her out for transphobia. Last December she also tweeted her support for Maya Foraster, a researcher who lost her job for transphobic tweets. In her blog post, which she shared in a tweet with disabled comments simply captioned “TERF wars,” Rowling aims to clarify how she first took an interest in trans activism and tries to explain how she came to hold her opinions. But for all the research and outreach she claims to have done on the subject, Rowling’s post makes clear, more than anything, how little she actually knows or understands about the trans community.
Rather than defer to the lived experience of actual trans women, Rowling declares herself an expert on the subject after having read “sundry” books and spoken with some trans people—without actually naming any of the resources or people she consulted. She centers the reactions she’s received to her initial tweets as proof that trans activists are the real villains of this story. And she cites several debunked and widely disputed talking points that have proven harmful and even dangerous to the trans community.
But more pernicious than any one bogus claim in Rowling’s manifesto is its broader goal. Rowling’s blog post is an attempt to brand her views as feminist in nature—as legitimate concerns about protecting women’s integrity and rights. At one point, she claims that now is a particularly scary time to be a woman, with an accused sexual assaulter in the White House, the rampant “incel” movement, and trans activists calling, sometimes with violent language, for cis women’s re-education. In other words, she equates the harassment she has received from some of her online critics to the acts of violence made against women. How anyone could equate the two in good faith is a mystery in and of itself.
Rowling also reveals that she is a sexual assault survivor—a traumatic experience that no one should endure. She claims that her experience and its lingering effects have made her particularly empathetic toward the many trans people who are abused every day. But she also attempts to use that experience to legitimize widely debunked fears about trans people in bathrooms. It should be noted that before bathrooms became a key feature of the debate surrounding trans rights, racists and homophobes claimed them as a battleground as well.
“she cites several debunked and widely disputed talking points that have proven harmful and even dangerous to the trans community.”
This strikes at the heart of what makes Rowling’s post so dangerous. Despite her claim that she cares about trans people, her post still frames the community and its advocates as a direct threat to cis women. It paints trans women as aggressors, as invaders to female spaces, and plays into the exact trope transphobes have used for years to justify their abuse. For her to do so, after defending accused domestic abuser Johnny Depp’s continued role in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, is hypocritical to say the least.
There is nothing feminist about Rowling’s arguments. On the contrary, they propagate the use of women, particularly white women, as rhetorical props to bolster bigotry. Just as white women’s purity has been used to justify the abuse and lynching of innocent black men (at times, it must be noted, by white women themselves) cis women’s vulnerability has also been used to overshadow and even deny that of trans women.
To be clear, trans women are women. Trans men are men. Nonbinary people are valid and deserve affirmation. Transition regret is uncommon. Trans people are not a threat to women in bathrooms, or any other private spaces. And violence against trans people remains rampant. Feminism is meaningless if it does not support, affirm, and protect all women—and any philosophy that seeks to say which of us can and cannot participate in our conversations or occupy our spaces has no right to invoke its name.