A brief history of every bad take J.K. Rowling has had on trans issues
Please I beg have a day off
This weekend, British people seemed to only be able to talk about two things on social media; the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being pulled down in Bristol, and J.K. Rowling’s latest take on trans issues.
On Saturday night, J.K. tweeted to her millions of followers an article about the effects of COVID-19 on “people who menstruate”, and sarcastically criticised its wording for not calling these people women outright: “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
Tweets like this from J.K. seem to make people do a collective sigh, because as soon as gender, sex or trans rights become the topic of conversation online or in the news, it seems like she’s always there to give her two cents. Her opinions on these sorts of things mean she’s often accused of being a TERF – a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which, if you couldn’t tell from the acronym, is a label assigned to feminists who are wary of trans rights.
It’s worth noting J.K. has often declared her support for the transgender community and has repeatedly denied allegations of transphobia. But, while J.K. might not be out here saying trans people don’t deserve equal and fair treatment, implying only women can menstruate undeniably excludes trans men and gender non-conforming people from the narrative. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time J.K. has upset people after tweeting something about trans issues, so we looked at all the instances of this happening to understand why people are so offended after this weekend’s post:
October 2017: J.K. liked a tweet against gender self-identification
A few eyebrows were raised a couple of years ago when random tweets deemed transphobic began to appear in J.K.’s personal Twitter likes. The first instance of this was J.K. liking a Medium article by Harvey Jeni about how Jeni thought the idea of gender self-identification posed a threat to the MeToo movement.
In the article, Jeni said: “I would like to consider why so many men on the left refuse to accept women’s concerns about the new gender identity law that will allow any male to access women’s sex segregated spaces, regardless of presentation, or hormonal/surgical status.
“Tell us again how we should willingly get changed next to a stranger with a penis while focusing on ensuring our fearful body language doesn’t make them feel uncomfortable.”
Reducing a trans woman to a “stranger with a penis” is at least nasty and insensitive, and at most a declaration of transphobic values on Jeni’s part. Now, it would be unfair to say liking a tweet is the same as completely agreeing with its content or subscribing to a certain ideology. Some people genuinely like stuff to bookmark it and find again later, particularly if they don’t realise their likes show up on other people’s feeds. So, given J.K. didn’t publicly comment on the tweet she liked, people gave her the benefit of the doubt. This isn’t the only time dodgy tweets have been up in J.K.’s likes, though.
March 2018: J.K. ‘accidentally’ liked a tweet about ‘men in dresses’
Five months later, another tweet about trans issues was seen in Rowling’s Twitter likes, in which a Labour activist was discussing the misogyny they’d faced within the party. The activist seemed to punch down at trans women to make a point about sexism by saying “men in dresses get brocialist solidarity I never had. That’s misogyny!”
Again, J.K. didn’t publicly comment on the presence of another tweet like this in her Twitter likes; it was J.K.’s spokesperson who told PinkNews: “I’m afraid J.K. Rowling had a clumsy and middle-aged moment and this is not the first time she has favourited by holding her phone incorrectly.” While this excuse wasn’t easily bought by some people, the lack of acknowledgement directly from J.K. herself meant it was easily swept under the carpet.
December 2019: J.K. supported a woman who lost her job after saying ‘men cannot change into women’
Suspicion over the motivations of J.K.’s Twitter likes eventually became kinda legit when she actively posted in support of Maya Forstater. Rowling tweeted the hashtag #IStandWithMaya in December, after Forstater lost her job for tweeting: “Smart people I admire… are tying themselves in knots to avoid saying the truth that men cannot change into women (because that might hurt men’s feelings)”.
There’s no two ways around this, really. What Maya said suggested trans women cannot truly identify as women, and it was this transphobic attitude which led to her dismissal. Presumably, after hearing about this case, J.K. entered the chat by tweeting: “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”.
Let’s be real, Maya didn’t just say sex is real, she also said trans women can’t be women. Science and history both prove gender identity is not totally biological, and a lot of people saw this as a tone-deaf declaration of support for a prejudiced woman. It’s safe to say a lot of people were surprised considering prejudice was the very thing Rowling had advocated against throughout the story of the biggest children’s book and film franchise in history.
If this was a perfectly politically correct thing to tweet, we’re also not too sure the Human Rights Campaign official Twitter account would have called J.K. out for it.
May 2020: J.K. replied ‘f*** up some TERFS’ to a kid’s drawing
At the end of last month, J.K. began promoting her new online kids’ book, The Ickabog, by sharing drawings of characters done by her young readers. In response to one drawing, J.K. tweeted: “I love this truly fabulous Icakbog, with its bat ears, mismatched eyes, and terrifying bloodstained teeth! In court, Wolf claimed the Facebook post in which he’d said he wanted to ‘f*** up some TERFs’ was just ‘bravado’. #TheIckabog.”
The tweet has since been deleted after leaving many people confused, with J.K. explaining in a later tweet: “I’m mortified! This is what happens when you’re not paying attention and accidentally cut and paste from an ENTIRELY different kind of message.”
The content of the original tweet was referring to the case of a trans woman, Tara Wolf, assaulting Maria Maclachlan at a protest against trans rights in 2017. So, people saw that not only had J.K. accidentally responded to a child’s drawing with explicit language, she had also revealed she had been reading the kind of stories traditional news outlets love to broadcast – ones in which trans people have fucked up in some way.
In fairness, reading the news does not make you a TERF. Rowling said as much herself, tweeting: “I certainly didn’t mean to paste a quotation from a message about the assault of Maria Maclaughlin into a tweet to a child… However, I am not – as many of the people now swarming into my mentions seem to think – ashamed of reading about the assault.”
She added: “Take your censorship and authoritarianism elsewhere. They don’t work on me.” The pleas of J.K.’s transgender former fans for her to stop speaking on these issues didn’t seem to work on her either, though, given that she went on to tweet further this past weekend.
June 2020: J.K. implied only women menstruate in a tirade about sex
On Saturday, J.K. posted a tweet implying menstruation is fundamentally attached to womanhood.
As we already pointed out, suggesting menstruation is strictly confined to the experiences of women invalidates the experiences of trans men and non-binary people, who are very much much able to menstruate if they were born with female sex organs. The bodily function in question doesn’t make them any less of the gender they feel like they are.
There was a swift backlash to this tweet for its alleged tone-deafness towards both trans people and women who might be post-menopausal or have sexual complications, and therefore don’t menstruate either. Yet, J.K. continued to tweet that night about how sex is real and trans people apparently can’t relate to the “lived reality” of cisgender women.
J.K. added: “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.
“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 a nonsense.”
It’s clear from these tweets J.K. genuinely doesn’t hate trans people, whom she claims to “know and love”. She has reiterated on Twitter time and again she stands for trans rights. However, the reason people are still frustrated with J.K.’s statements are because of the presence of microaggressions in how she gets her beliefs across online. For instance, saying trans people are vulnerable “in the same way” as women is where people think she goes wrong, resulting in her being called a TERF. Implying trans people cannot be true women, only similar to women, is technically to say trans women aren’t proper women, and it’s often a slippery slope between an opinion like that and denying people their freedom to identify with whatever they feel they are in their bones.
The thing with posting opinions like this is it unfortunately leads to organisations like LGB Alliance, a pressure group to exclude trans people from the LGBTQ+ community, feeling validated in their discrimination.
On the other hand, in response to J.K.’s recent posts and the backlash they received, transgender activist Munroe Bergdorf tweeted at her: “I can’t stress this enough. If your feminism requires tearing other marginalised people down, rather than deconstructing the patriarchy. IT IS NOT FEMINISM!!! …you just aren’t a very nice person.”
J.K. Rowling’s association with the ideas of feminists who view the inclusion of trans people in the strive for equality as a potential threat is nothing new. On top of that, it really does seem like whenever discourse around trans rights goes down online, J.K.’s posts, and the anger they cause, somehow make everything noisier than it already was.
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Featured image via Twitter (@jk_rowling)