This is why JK Rowling has been accused of transphobia - and how she has responded

Thursday, 11th June 2020, 9:30 am
Updated Thursday, 11th June 2020, 10:07 am
The latest controvery with JK Rowling explained (Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
The latest controvery with JK Rowling explained (Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

The writer responded to an article discussing menstruation products, taking issue with the phrase “people who menstruate”.

Now the author has published a lengthy blog post writing about her thoughts and relationship with transgender issues.

This is everything you need to know about the situation.

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What did JK Rowling say?

On Saturday 6 June, JK Rowling quote tweeted an article with the title: “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate."

Rowling took issue with the phrasing, tweeting: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

The tweet sparked criticism, with some users taking issue with Rowling appearing to define women as “people who menstruate”.

In response to Rowling’s tweet, some Twitter users highlighted that transgender men experience menstruation, transgender women don’t, and other gender identities across the spectrum could also experience periods as well.

Why are the author’s tweets being called ‘transphobic’?

Rowling’s insistence that only women experience menstruation has been criticised as being transphobic by some Twitter users, who have pointed out that her comments are “just not accurate” when it comes to people who menstruate.

One person wrote: “Trans men who haven’t transitioned still menstruate.”

Another tweeted: “I know you know this because you have been told over and over and over again, but transgender men can menstruate. Non-binary people menstuate. I, a 37 year old woman with a uterus, have not menstruated in a decade. Women are not defined by their periods.”

The official Clue Twitter, an app designed to track menstrual cycles, also responded to the tweet, writing: “Hi @jk_rowling, using non-gendered language is about moving beyond the idea that woman = uterus. Feminists were once mocked for wanting to change sexist language, but it’s now common to say firefighter instead of fireman.

“It seems awkward right now to say “people who menstruate” but this is just like changing other biased language. Menstruation is a biological function; not a “woman thing”. It’s unnecessary to gender body parts and doing so can restrict healthcare access for those who need it.”

LGBTQ+ organisation GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) responded to Rowling’s comments, tweeting: “JK Rowling continues to align herself with an ideaology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people.”

GLAAD followed up by recommending people check out the Percy Jackson series by author Rick Riordan.

“By the way, looking for some summer reading? “Percy Jacson” author Rick Riordan isn’t transphobic #AllKidsDeserveRepresensation,” the non-profit organisation wrote.

How did Rowling respond?

Rowling responded to the backlash by posting a series of tweets to defend her earlier statements.

She tweeted: “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.

“The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women - ie, to male violence - ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences - is nonsense.”

These additional comments were also met with subsequent backlash, with users labelling Rowling a ‘TERF’ which stands for “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist”.

One person replied to her tweets, writing: “As a physician, I want people to know that sex exists on a bimodal biological specturm just like gender exists on a bimodal sociological spectrum. While most identify as either female or male, there are intersex and trans individuals who identities are just as valid and real.”

Another wrote: “You’re a smart person. How d you not yet understand the difference between sex and gender? The only way I can possibly explain your ignorance at this point is willfulness. It’s incredibly disappointing.”

Someone else tried to explain how Rowling equating sex and gender was wrong, writing: “We’re not saying sex isn’t real. We’re saying it’s different from gender. My assigned sex at birth was male. But I identify as a woman.”

TV presenter Jonathan Ross, however, came to the writer's defence, tweeting: “I just ate too many brownies. Again. Oh, and also. @jk_rowling is both right and magnificent. For those accusing her of transphobia, please read what she wrote. She clearly is not.”

Ross’ daughter, Honey, on the other hand criticised Rowling for her comments hours after her father went to her defence.

Honey took to Instagram, sharing a photoshopped picture of the cover of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which had been changed to read “Harry potter and the Audacity of This B***h.” Honey then also shared a tweet by a user who accused Rowling of “hating trans people”.

What’s the blog post that Rowling published about?

On 10 June, the author posted a tweet that read “TERF wars” with a link to her website for a blog post titled: “J.K. Rowling writes about her reasons for speaking out on sex and gender issues.”

In the post, she revealed her experience with domestic abuse and sexual assault for the first time.

She wrote: “I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy, but out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces.”

In the 3,600 word essay, Rowling writes about her struggles with sexism and misogyny, adding that reading accounts of gender dysphoira by trans men had made her wonder “if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition”.

She wrote that she believed that misogyny and sexism were reasons behind the 4,400 per cent increase in the number of girls being referred for transitioning treatment in the past decade.

The essay has prompted heated debate online, with stars from the Harry Potter franchises responding to Rowling’s comments.

How have Harry Potter stars responded?

Various members of the Harry Potter cast have taken to Twitter and other online platforms to respond to Rowling’s comments.

Daniel Radcliffe, who played the titular character of Harry Potter himself in the film adaptations of Rowling's books, wrote a statement on the Trevor Project website, a charity that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth and one that Radcliffe has been involved with for over a decade.

Radcliffe wrote: “While Jo is unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken, as someone who has been honoured to work with and continues to contribue to The Trevor Project for the last decade, and just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something at this moment.

“Transgender women are women. 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.”

He added: “It's clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.”

Emma Watson, who portrayed Hermione Granger, took to Twitter to write: “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are. I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are.

“I donate to @Mermaids_Gender and @mamacash. If you can, perhaps you’ll feel inclined to do the same."

Evanna Lynch, who plays Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series, shared screenshots from the iPhone notes app on Twitter responding to Rowling’s comments.

The notes started by saying: “I wanted to stay out of commenting on JKR’s tweets because it feels impossible to address the subject on Twitter but I am so saddened to see trans people feeling abandoned by the HP community, so here are my thoughts.”

The post continues: “I disagree with her opinion that cis-women are the most vulnerable minority in this situation and I think she’s on the wrong side of this debate.”

Eddie Redmayne, who stars at Newt Scarmander in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series, published a statement via Variety, which said: “Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative, and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself. This is an ongoing process.

“As someone who has worked with both J.K Rowling and members of the trans community, I wanted to make it absolutely clear where I stand. I disagree with Jo’s comments.”

Redmayne continued: “Trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary identities are valid. I would never want to speak on behalf of the community but I do know that my dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities, which all too often results in violence and abuse. They simply want to live their lives peacefully, and it’s time to let them do so.”

Has Rowling made statements like this in the past?

Rowling has come under criticism before for similar comments in the past.

In December 2019, she came out in support of a researcher who had lost her job after saying a person could not change their biological sex.

The researcher, Maya Forstater, had lost her job after tweeting: “Why I am so surprised at is that smart people who I admire, who are absolutely pro-science in other areas, and champion human rights & womens rights are tying themselves into knots to avoid saying the truth that men cannot change into women (because that might hurt men's feelings).”

Rowling took to Twitter and wrote: “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill.”

GLAAD previously issued a statement in regards to Rowling's comments.

Anthony Ramon, head of talent at GLAAD, said: “J.K Rowling, whose books gave kids hope that they could work together to create a better world, has now aligned herself with an anti-science ideology that denies the basic humanity of people who are transgender.

“Trans men, trans women and non-binary people are not a threat, and to imply otherwise puts trans people at risk. Now is the time for allies who know and support trans people to speak up and support their fundamental right to be treated equally and fairly.”