A Brief History of J.K. Rowling’s Brushes With Transphobia

Breaking: J.K. Rowling is still a TERF

J.K. Rowling TERF
J.K. Rowling giving herself a slow clap for single-handedly destroying her own legacy.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Over the weekend, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling resumed what appears to be her latest project: willfully destroying her legacy as a beloved children’s author and replacing it with one of ignorance and transphobia.

Apropos of pretty much nothing, Rowling took to Twitter on Saturday to air some grievances about a headline’s use of the phrase “people who menstruate” instead of simply “women.” Rowling shared the article, a piece about menstrual health and hygiene amid the coronavirus pandemic, along with her own commentary: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

Backlash was unsurprisingly swift, with critics accusing the author’s flippant dismissal of inclusive language as transphobic, pointing to Rowling’s apparent allegiance to a binary and biological conception of gender as evidence of her trans-exclusionary feminism.

“J.K. Rowling continues to align herself with an ideology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans,” GLAAD tweeted amid rising criticism of Rowling’s tweet. “In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people.”

The reason GLAAD wrote “continues” is the same reason The Cut covered the incident under the weary headline “What Did J.K. Rowling Say This Time?” That is: this is not the first time Rowling has unapologetically espoused troubling thoughts about the trans community.

The author’s history of public transphobia dates back to at least 2017, when Rowling was called out for liking transphobic tweets and following “aggressively transphobic accounts,” as Forbes put it. In 2018, after Rowling apparently liked a tweet referring to trans women as “men in dresses,” a rep for the author dismissed the troubling behavior as “a clumsy and middle-aged moment,” claiming Rowling accidentally liked the tweet “by holding her phone incorrectly.”

This awkward and ultimately unconvincing PR move seemed to only encourage Rowling to become increasingly blatant in her transphobic messaging. Prior to her most recent random act of transphobia, Rowling drew widespread criticism late last year after tweeting in support of Maya Forstater, a woman who was fired from her job at the Centre for Global Development for a series of transphobic tweets of her own. The tweet, in which Rowling seemed to suggest that Forstater had been unjustly fired “for stating that sex is real,” drew ire from critics and dismayed fans who labeled the author a TERF, or a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. The accusation refers to a problematic view that refuses to consider trans women “real” women and insists on a feminism that recognizes only a biological definition of womanhood.

Unfortunately, Rowling hasn’t done much to dispel these accusations, and instead appears committed to confirming them. While the author wrote that she has “been empathetic to trans people for decades” in a separate Twitter thread on Saturday, she doubled down on her trans-exclusionary vision of feminism, attempting to defend her transphobic rhetoric by propping up her biological essentialism on purportedly feminist ideals. “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased,” she wrote.

Unfortunately for Rowling, her dismayed fans, the reps who spent years desperately trying to come up with a half-believable excuse for why a beloved children’s author keeps quietly supporting aggressively transphobic voices on Twitter, and, most importantly, the trans community, J.K. Rowling appears to remain entirely uninterested in learning, changing or apologizing. The author responded to the criticism in yet another tweet on Saturday, but instead of apologizing, Rowling appeared to suggest her critics were the real misogynists, seeming to identify “TERF” as a sexist slur akin to “feminazi” and “bitch.”

“‘Feminazi’, ‘TERF’, ‘bitch’, ‘witch’. Times change. Woman-hate is eternal,” the author wrote. Clearly one of these things is not like the other, but there doesn’t seem to be much point in telling J.K. Rowling that.

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