Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Transphobia: Why Does JK Rowling Repeatedly Offend Transpeople?

Pop Culture

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Transphobia: Why Does JK Rowling Repeatedly Offend Transpeople?

Illustration: Arati Gujar

One of the world’s most influential authors, JK Rowling, is back in the news, and it isn’t because a new installment of Harry Potter is in the works.

Instead, the highest paid writer in the world has once again caught the ire of the LGBTQ community, this time for a string of tweets that have been called out for being transphobic, and have drawn sharp outrage across social media platforms.

The author’s Twitter tirade was apparently sparked off by an article that used the phrase “all people who menstruate”. While talking about access to sanitary supplies during Covid-19, the OpEd in question referred to “women” and “girls”, as well as “gender non-binary persons”.

The last of those descriptors seemed to have bothered Rowling, who shared the article with the snarky tweet: “People who menstruate. I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

After being called out for that tweet, the author went on to expand on her views:

“If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased,” she wrote. “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.”

Her thread on the concept of biological sex, however, found few takers online, with both fans of her books, as well as members of the LGBTQ community rushing to distance themselves from her views.

The backlash was so severe that on Tuesday even Daniel Radcliffe — who played Harry Potter in the movies — felt compelled to weigh in. In an essay, he apologised to fans of the series, and made it clear that he didn’t agree with the author’s views.

“Transgender women are women,” he wrote. “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.”

Katie Leung, the actor who plays the only Asian character in the series — and who many have pointed out is rather unfortunately named “Cho Chang” — also spoke out, and stressed her support for both trans people and the Black Lives Matter protests.

To make matters worse for fans, this isn’t the first time the author has faced backlash for her views on transgender women. In December last year, she tweeted in support of a British woman who lost her job for saying, “Men cannot change into women”.

While Rowling peppered her defence with several disclaimers about how people were free to do as they like, she ends it by indicating that she thought it was unfair that a woman was forced out of a job for “stating that sex is real”. She was also once criticised for liking a tweet that called transgender women “men in dresses”.

This time, the author has refused to comment further, or apologise for her views. The Harry Potter series may well be some of the most read books in the world, but in the last week, it’s safe to say that JK Rowling has lost a few fans.