The strange, sad saga of J.K. Rowling, transphobe

We are in the darkest timeline. Just in case 2020 wasn’t already wild enough, the year has ruined Harry Potter as well.  J.K. Rowling, the billionaire creator of the series, rattled off some highly controversial tweets last week.

Rowling linked to an opinion piece about the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on access to menstrual products worldwide, which frankly includes some alarming global health statistics. She ignored the content, however, and chose to make fun of the title, “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” recognizing that all kinds of people have vaginas and periods.

The Internet met Rowling with something that transcends scorn.

Twitter has labeled the author a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or a TERF, a term for feminists whose feminism does not include trans women. Rowling later doubled down on her tossed-off joke by defending herself in a Twitter thread and then, in a whole essay.

Her argument centers on the dangers that trans people pose to feminism and womanhood, and the need for woman-only spaces. She cites her personal experience as a survivor of abuse. It boils down to this tweet: “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. 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.”

It seems Rowling missed the distinction that has moved into the mainstream in the last decade or two: biological sex, gender identity and performance, and sexuality are not the same thing. Critics online argued that Rowling’s arguments perpetuate harmful misinformation and rhetorical strategy. Writer Dawn Ennis fact checked Rowling’s essay for Forbes and meticulously detailed its “fear mongering,” citing this lengthy and well-researched thread from tech CEO Andrew James Carter.

“The narrative JK is building here is one where she is the victim–not the trans community who are oppressed and marginalised every day,” he says.

“If you read that J.K. Rowling piece, I suggest you learn the term DARVO first: 1.) Deny 2.) Attack 3.) Reverse Victim and Offender,” wrote writer Sara Benincasa in a thread. “I first learned about it from a psychologist re: abuse, but it’s a common rhetorical strategy as well.”

Staff at Hachette UK, Rowling’s publisher, are refusing to work on the author’s forthcoming children’s book The Ickabog and want the publisher to drop her. Many fans of the Harry Potter series are, understandably, upset.

“[M]y favorite fun fact about the Harry Potter series is that it actually does not have an author,” tweeted one fan, “like we just have no clue who wrote those books. [A]nd I think that’s beautiful.”

But before going out and lasering off your lightening bolt tattoo, Rowling’s comments shouldn’t run the beloved children’s series for you. As Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe wrote for the Trevor Project:

“To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you.

If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual; if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.”

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Katie Smith

Katie Smith is a Philadelphia-based writer. Find her on Instagram @saddy_yankee for cat pics.

2 thoughts on “TERF Wars

  • June 18, 2020 at 10:19 am

    And, by all means, if someone expresses an opinion that you find faulty or in some way disagrees with your own opinion or experiences, the best course of action is to ridicule them, shun them, and genearlly beat them into the ground until they’re dead, literally or figuratively. It would be stupid to actually use the differing opinion to create a dialogue and perhaps change minds, perhaps on all sides of a subject. Oh, and calling names would be good, too, especially if you can make the name a groovy acronym for something. That’ll help everyone reach a place of understanding.

  • June 18, 2020 at 10:20 pm

    If someone expresses an opinion that is faulty because 1. flies in the face of science, and 2. actively harms and endangers an already marginalized group of people, then yes, we should absolutely shun them and ridicule them.

    Denying someone their humanity because you can’t tell the difference between gender and sex is a ridiculous position that deserves all the smack it gets. JK Rowling should be ashamed of the harm she’s causing.

    She’s a TERF. And if she find that being called that hurts her feelings, maybe she should reflect on the words she’s using to purposefully misgender people.


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