Most of us know of J.K. Rowling; if not by name, then most likely by her incredibly popular young adult series “Harry Potter.” First published in 1998, Harry Potter has been a favorite across many generations.
More recently, Rowling has also been known for her harmful transphobic rhetoric, when she posted an insensitive tweet that targeted transgender people.
On June 6, Rowling retweeted an article discussing COVID-19 effects on menstrual health. The article used gender-neutral language, saying “those who menstruate” rather than limiting that category to “women.” In Rowling’s tweet, she wrote “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
The fact is that not all women menstruate, and not only women menstruate. Some people who menstruate may identify as a different gender, and some who identify as a woman may not menstruate at all. These people are completely real, valid and it goes without question that their identities exist.
According to the American Psychological Association, which is the largest scientific organization in America, “sex is assigned at birth, refers to one’s biological status as either male or female, and is associated primarily with physical attributes such as chromosomes, hormone prevalence, and external and internal anatomy. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women.”
Gender, as in terms like men, women and non-binary, is an arbitrary design of social construction. Simply put, being a man or woman, or neither or somewhere inbetween, is at the hands of the individual. Sex is the biology of a person, decided long before birth. A lot of people never idenitfy as anything outside of their sex, aligning with the typical gender construction that aligns with their sex, but that does not discredit trans people by any means.
Fans quickly called Rowling out for her tweet, calling her transphobic and saying her words were incredibly harmful. Other celebrities called her out as well, including stars of the Harry Potter movie, Daniel Radcliff and Emma Watson.
Radcliff wrote an inspiring message posted on The Trevor Project’s website, stating that “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 [Rowling] or I.”
Watson wrote a series of tweets in support of the trans community as well. “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,” Watson wrote.
Sadly, Rowling’s transphobic comments did not end there. “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,” she tweeted.
Trans lives do not contradict with sex at all. Sex is biological, while gender identity is determined by the individual. Saying that not all women have periods and that not all those with periods are women are two statements that do not claim that sex is not real. Menstruation is a biological happenstance that does not determine the gender of any individual.
Rowling seemed to contradict herself, as well, stating that she “love[s] trans people.” If she cared about trans people, their rights and the oppression they face, she would not have tweeted such hateful words.
Rowling once again showed her true colors through her latest book “Trouble Blood,” which follows a cisgender man who dresses as a woman to kill his victims. This is an incredibly disgusting trope that alludes to the harmful and incorrect idea that trans women are predators and use their identities to harm women.
Recently, Rowling pinned a Tweet on her account promoting a t-shirt sold by Wild Womyn Workshop. Other products sold on their website include this set of stickers, reading with a number of horrifically transphobic phrases. Adding this to her list of transphobic actions really puts into place the harmful ideology and rhetoric that Rowling is spreading to an influential and vulnerable young audience.
Transphobia has been a problem for trans people worldwide, and a popular author taking part in such harmful rhetoric is deeply damaging to fans who grew up reading her books. Transphobic comments, remarks or actions can lead to higher risk of mental health problems in trans people, especially younger individuals.