I am old enough to remember that once upon a time, fans across the wizarding world hailed J.K. Rowling as a Queen. Muggles never understood why. But for us believers, the title sat right on her. Harry Potter was the gift she gave the world. The seven-part series outdid themselves as books, and for all the wonders they contained, became an identity for many. It taught kids around the world that magic existed, told them that they were enough as they were, guided them to stand up to wrongdoing, motivated them to believe in themselves.
The Queen taught us well. For, now we are ready to put the knowledge she gave us to practical use. Beginning with her.
What did JKR do?
On June 7, JKR responded to an article from a media platform called Devex titled: “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.” Rather sardonically, she wrote: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
This was insulting for the trans community. It’s a fact that transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people can also menstruate without falling under the “wumben” umbrella. JKR’s attempt at sarcasm instantly backfired as Twitterati picked up on shrill notes of transphobia in her tweet. A volley of protests came down on her from all quarters, and especially from the trans community, accusing her of dismissing their identity and existence. Embarrassingly, JKR responded to the backlash with tweets justifying her stand, that were even more transphobic this time around. They reeked of typical TERF behaviour.
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.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
TERF? What’s that?
TERF is an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”. It was coined in 2008 to categorise women who assert feminism exclusively on the grounds of the biological female identity. JKR too, has all the makings of a TERF. In her tweets, she pressed on the precedence of sex over gender, which essentially translates to a denial of social identity in the face of a biological one assigned to us at birth. This definition of feminism is largely discriminatory as it doesn’t take into account the trans experience of being female. Unfortunately, TERFism is quite popular in the United Kingdom, the place JKR calls home.
During a period when the world is grappling with rage on a multitude of issues, ranging from the migrant workers’ crisis in India to the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, it is rather troubling that JKR chose to weigh in on the unacceptance surrounding the trans community. In trying times like these, this would only mean further mental strain for a population that is already in for the long, hard fight for the assertion of basic rights.
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.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
JKR claims she has been “empathetic to trans people for decades.” Here’s the thing. It is possible to feel sorry for the ostracisation or violence committed against a community, and continue to pity them without sensitising oneself as to their backgrounding issues. Rather, real empathy comes when one steps up to educate themselves about the lived experiences of the oppressed minority, and translate that understanding into words and actions. Clearly, the author has been mistaking pity for empathy.
Transphobia And Racism
Twitter has accused JKR of insensitivity in the past too. She has espoused transphobic views on several occasions in the past. Besides that, fans have even detected overtones of racism in the characterisation of South-East Asian people in the Harry Potter books. Diehard fans, now that we are grown and socially aware, are finding it difficult to locate consonance between JKR’s problematic views and the world of magic she so beautifully created that we still carry inside of us.
A Twitter user from the LGBTQ+ community wrote to JKR:
I decided not to kill myself because I wanted to know how Harry's story ended. For a long time, that was all that kept me alive. Until I met my husband who helped me learn to love myself and to want to live. You just insulted him to my face. I hate you.
— Legendary Phoenix: Mavet Balthazar Rose (@scary_library) June 6, 2020
Daniel Radclife, who plays Harry Potter for the series is disappointed. According to the BBC, he hopes Rowling’s comments will not “taint” the Harry Potter series for fans. In a statement posted on an LGBT suicide prevention charity website, the actor said: “Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people.”
For the sake of Potterheads around the world, and of Pride Month, it’s time for the “Queen” to educate herself on the LGBTQ+ community.
Tanvi Akhauri is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.