Opinion: How we can respond to the latest odious transphobia from JK Rowling

We must continue to call it out when we see it. No matter if it's a stranger on the street or a world-renowned author. We need to call it out every single time. 

A hand holding a trans pride flag

I’m sure like myself, you too haven’t been able to completely escape JK Rowling’s latest foray of transphobic tweets and running negative commentary on the lives of transgender people. How can we respond to her latest odious transphobia? 

JK first publicly dipped her toes into what the TERFs like to politely call the ‘Gender Critical’ world back in December 2019 when she tweeted in support of a woman whose employment contract was not renewed due to her constant discriminatory and disparaging attacks on the trans community both online and in her workplace.

Initially, it baffled me. JK Rowling; one of the most successful authors of our time, a powerful, privileged woman. Someone who holds a huge amount of influence worldwide. There’s not much she can’t do. Yet she’s decided to use that power, privilege, success and influence to openly attack one of the most marginalised minorities in society? A group of people whose life expectancy is just 35 years due to suicide often caused by societal mistreatment as well as murder by violence? This is the message that she wants to send to her 14.5 million followers? Unfortunately, it seems so.

As that fella whose name I can’t recall, but you know the one- ex comedy writer guy, seems to be losing his position as the leader of the ‘gender critical brigade’, JK has slowly been emerging as the one to take the crown, with her odious transphobia and targeted attacks on the trans community becoming more and more directed and more and more vicious. 

Unfortunately, I am not surprised by her most recent outburst. Baffled yes, surprised no. As soon as someone takes the time to sit down, think about and write out one transphobic tweet, I know from experience that they are capable of writing many more and unfortunately, I don’t see an end to it any time soon.

One thing I am getting tired of though is the mainstream media treating this like some sort of entertaining tag game. JK says one thing, then there’s a race to see what Daniel Radcliffe says or Emma Watson. And while of course, we appreciate the support of these actors and their public statements denouncing JK’s odious transphobia, I can’t help but feel that this is distracting people from the story that really matters – transgender lives are under attack. 

Large media outlets are so quick to keep up with the latest celebrity commentary, that the actual victims go unnoticed and unheard. 

The past couple of years, there has been such a large increase in transphobia worldwide. We are one of the few minority groups that are currently seeing our rights not only be denied but actively removed all across the globe. And it’s frightening. 

We are fighting to live authentically, we are fighting for legal recognition, we are fighting for healthcare, we are fighting for employment. Every day, the trans community are fighting just to live. And one of the most privileged, wealthiest, influential writers of our time decides to launch repeated attacks on a community that is constantly being kicked already? The mind boggles.

Luckily for me, I was never a Harry Potter fan. But in recent days, I’ve spoken to a number of trans and queer people who are now experiencing some major internal conflict. These people who’ve had a decades-long love of the Potter series. Many of them mentioned different characters or different storylines throughout the series that they really personally identified with and related to. After all, Harry Potter was a young boy forced to live in a closet, and as soon as he entered Hogwarts, found his tribe and realised his power and worth in the world. I mean, what queer person isn’t going to identify with that in some way?

My heart breaks for those who now believe that they can no longer enjoy or identify with the stories and the characters like they once did. My heart breaks for people who once had their favourite magical series proudly displayed on their bookshelves, but have now put them into a box, and my heart breaks for those who emerged from the stories with new powers of their own. But I’ve been thinking about this – you can still love Harry Potter.

The series is a magical fictitious story with many relatable twists and turns and personalities. The author is not the book.

A term I learned recently is “Death of the Author”, stay with me here, it’s not as morbid as it sounds. 

It’s a concept developed by literary critics in the mid 20th century and basically means that the story is the birth of the reader. That the author’s intentions, biographical facts such as beliefs, opinions etc should hold no special weight in the interpretation of their writing. The most important thing about books is how the reader interprets them and not what the author’s intentions are, and this is especially true for fiction novels. 

So yes, you can still get lost in the Harry Potter series, you can relate to the boy in the closet and take hope from his power and strength. You can keep your favourite books on the shelf. You can separate the author from the story.

What can you do? Message your trans friends with support, honestly, it means a lot to us. Amplify trans voices, amplify messages and statements of support and not the negative rhetoric, don’t stand for odious transphobia. Stand for trans people.

We must continue to call it out when we see it. No matter if it’s a stranger on the street or a world-renowned author. We need to call it out every single time. 

But there are a few things that I’m not going to do. I’m not going to mimic JK’s actions. I won’t be calling her nasty things, I won’t be threatening her, I won’t be calling her existence into question. I won’t be attacking her work, I won’t be questioning her womanhood or her son’s manhood.

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