Collage by Faith Terrill
Trigger warnings: transphobia, suicide.
Disclaimer: I do not identify as transgender, but I am an ally. As allies, we can’t let bigotry be swept under the rug. Instead, we must use our privilege to call out those who perpetuate harmful stereotypes and further oppress the trans community. In this article, I seek to do just that by calling for allies to be critical of self-proclaimed feminists like J.K. Rowling.
Whether you’ve meticulously read every word of the “Harry Potter” series or simply enjoyed the films, J.K. Rowling has undoubtedly had an immense influence on our mainstream culture and childhood. To put it simply, this woman has a lot of power. And with that power comes an equal responsibility to use it for good — especially as a young adult fiction writer.
J.K. Rowling created a fantasy world for kids to feel free to be themselves, ultimately teaching them that it’s OK to be different. This world was an escape for children from all walks of life, whether for pleasure or solace. For many fiction writers, especially for Rowling herself, this is the ultimate goal of their hard work. Yet, when examining the world she built in the “Harry Potter” series, things aren’t as magical as they seem.
In the very creation of the series, J.K. Rowling incorporated harmful stereotypes in both the characters and social structure of the so-called “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” For example, the banker goblins play into anti-Semitic stereotypes while the token Asian character is named Cho Chang (you really couldn’t have thought of anything better?). Not to mention one of the few Black characters’ last names is Shacklebolt. Think about it: You have the opportunity to make a fantasy world for children to admire and dream about, and you’re going to purposely make it racist. Nice one, J.K.
Clearly, she has failed to see her own racial biases, but the bigotry doesn’t stop there. Rowling is a self-proclaimed feminist, deeming herself a champion of women’s rights so much so that she took to Twitter to react to an article using the phrase “people who menstruate.” She responded, “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” Not every woman menstruates, J.K., but apparently you can’t understand that. This Tweet reeks of trans-exclusionary radical feminism and you can smell it from a thousand miles away.
“The same woman who created a fantasy world for children to feel safe uses her platform of millions to constantly belittle and invalidate the trans community.”
For those of you who don’t know, trans-exclusionary radical feminism (or TERF) describes feminists who just don’t see trans women as women. Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard some TERF-y comments come from her mouth. In the past, she’s openly defended Maya Forstater, a woman who was fired from her job for being a transphobe. Rowling rushed to her side claiming that there should be no reason to fire her for believing that sex is real. And therein lies the problem: J.K. Rowling is unable to differentiate between sex (determined by biology and genetics) and gender (determined by culture and society).
Despite her TERF-ridden past that pretty much tells you where she stands as a so-called feminist and LGBTQ+ supporter, Rowling decided to release an in-depth statement on her “Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues” — or what I like to call her TERF Manifesto. Basically, she writes a whole lot of words to say she supports the trans community while simultaneously invalidating them with every argument she makes.
In this manifesto, she wrote that she’s concerned about the “huge explosion in young women to transition and … the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning.” However, she doesn’t cite any sources and neglects to mention other reasons why this number may be higher than usual. The first is quite obvious: We now have ways to measure this data. With the opening of gender clinics, more women are looking to transition as they had very little (if any) options in the past to do so. In reference to detransitioning, Rowling also overlooked the fact that the real number of people detransitioning is incredibly small, and it is most often temporary. Since she failed to cite any statistics, I’ll cite some for her: In a survey conducted by the Center for Transgender Equality, 8% of respondents had detransitioned, and of those 8%, “62% were currently living full time in a gender different than the one they were thought to be at birth.” Not to mention that backlash from family and the incredibly high price of hormones play a significant role in detransitioning. In reality, only 0.4% of respondents permanently detransitioned.
She also wrote this very-real statement: “The more of their accounts of gender dysphoria I’ve read, with their insightful descriptions of anxiety, dissociation, eating disorders, self-harm and self-hatred, the more I’ve wondered whether, if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition.” Just because she had OCD as a teen doesn’t mean that it would’ve been healed by transitioning — nor is this the mindset of those who are transitioning either. Here, she implies that mental health issues are a gateway to transitioning, when in fact, symptoms like anxiety and dissociation are due to gender dysphoria that exists because of the bigotry spewed by people like J.K. Rowling.
“Childhood heroes like J.K. Rowling continue to contribute to the oppression of the trans community and, by doing so, are literally killing the same kids they sought to save with their writing.”
And this brings me to my last point. Among some of her most dangerous claims, Rowling repeatedly denies that her stance is harmful to the trans community. The same woman who created a fantasy world for children to feel safe uses her platform of millions to constantly belittle and invalidate the trans community. According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, trans people “face unique stressors, including stress from being part of a minority group, as well as stress to not identifying with one’s biological sex.” Therefore, they are at higher risk of mental health disorders and are twice as likely to think about and attempt suicide than lesbian, gay or bisexual people.
Childhood heroes like J.K. Rowling continue to contribute to the oppression of the trans community and, by doing so, are literally killing the same kids they sought to save with their writing.
So, If you’re going to call yourself a feminist, stand for the protection and equality of ALL women.
If you’re going to call yourself a feminist, your beliefs should be intersectional.
If you’re going to call yourself a feminist, don’t be like J.K. Rowling.