J.K. Rowling called a TERF after tweet supporting woman who said people can’t ‘change’ their biological sex
|Toronto Star 21 Dec 2019 at 10:27|
J.K. Rowling has long used the internet to tweak the Harry Potter universe she created, surprising fans with trivial revelations from Ron Weasley’s patronus to the fact that wizards used to poop in their robes. But on Thursday, Rowling changed many fans’ views of her own character when she tweeted her support for a woman who was fired over her anti-trans social media posts.
“Dress however you please,” Rowling wrote on Twitter early Thursday. “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 #ThisIsNotADrill.”
The woman named in Rowling’s tweet is Maya Forstater, a tax expert who lost her job at a think tank after tweeting that trans women can’t “change” their biological sex. Forstater’s contract as a visiting fellow at the Washington- and London-based non-profit Center for Global Development was not renewed in March, according to the Guardian, after they found her tweets to be exclusionary toward trans people. On Wednesday, Judge James Tayler at the Central London Employment Tribunal dismissed Forstater’s claims of wrongful termination, per the Guardian, calling her “absolutist in her view of sex” and her expressed beliefs “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
Rowling’s tweet triggered backlash almost immediately, attracting condemnation from individual users and organizations alike: “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary people are non-binary. CC: JK Rowling,” the Human Rights Campaign account tweeted. Replying to Rowling’s tweet, one fan wrote that she grew up reading the Harry Potter series as a trans child and that the author’s decision “to support people that hate me” brought tears to her eyes.
Rowling’s representatives declined to comment to the Washington Post.
Elayna Darcy, another Harry Potter fan who for five years wrote for the website Mugglenet and co-produced a podcast on Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts” series, told the Post via email that “until this moment, I was in a sort of denial.”
“But she’s now so boldly declared it that there’s no hiding,” Darcy continued, referring to Rowling’s perceived anti-trans views. “I’m so heartbroken that this is who she is choosing to be.”
The Harry Potter Alliance, a fan-led non-profit that channels the messages from the series into real-world advocacy, distanced itself from Rowling’s tweet. “We know that trans women are women, trans men are men, non-binary people are non-binary,” the group wrote in a statement to the Post, “and that affirming and respecting people’s gender is kind, loving and literally saves lives.”
Within a couple of hours, the author’s name was trending No. 1 on Twitter alongside “JK Rowling is a TERF,” an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.” The term, coined by writer Viv Smythe in 2008, is prominently used in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond to refer to liberal feminists whose activism excludes the rights of trans women.
Some academics have argued that views like those held by Forstater are not all that uncommon among the general British population. In a February op-ed for the New York Times, feminist theorist Sophie Lewis wrote about how “British feminism became anti-trans,” pointing to prominent anti-trans figures in journalism and politics as proof of its spread into the British mainstream.
To many of Rowling’s fans, her tweet was a step further in the wrong direction. The author has previously caught flak for tweaking the Harry Potter canon, often via tweets and the Pottermore website, to include more socially progressive details. In 2007, she declared to fans that Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay, a detail she doubled down on this year but that never explicitly made its way into any of the books or films. In 2014, she similarly “clarified” that there were Jewish students at the wizarding school.
Some have criticized these edits as self-serving, but Rowling’s tweets have seldom been called malicious. The backlash she faced after Thursday’s tweet was especially notable, given the prevalence of the LGBTQ+ community in the Harry Potter fandom.
“I think the queer Potter community is tired,” wrote Darcy, who identifies as bisexual and genderqueer, and has been active in Harry Potter fandom for most of their life.
The books “meant everything” to Darcy as a kid. As an adult, they worked for Harry Potter fan organizations. And as the series came back into the spotlight, with the “Fantastic Beasts” films and the “Cursed Child” play, there was a hope that Rowling would, this time around, better represent the LGBTQ+ community: “We had this idea that we would get to really see her put her money where her mouth was on inclusivity,” Darcy said, “which she always seemed to be so vocal in supporting.”
The stories didn’t live up to that hope and Thursday’s tweet may have permanently snuffed it out. Many fans like Darcy have learned to channel what they hoped the series would be into stories they write themselves. Darcy specifically mentioned Wizards in Space, a fandom literary magazine that they have written for and has a majority staff of non-binary, trans and/or queer fans.
“I think all the outrage getting aimed at J.K. Rowling right now, we’d be much better off by focusing our energy on uplifting trans and non-binary creators who are out here doing the work for readers that she refuses to do,” Darcy wrote.
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Katelyn Burns, a journalist who has previously written about Rowling’s views of the trans community, told the Post that she was “utterly unsurprised” by the author’s tweet. Burns, who is a trans woman, asked in a March 2018 piece whether Rowling was transphobic after the writer liked a tweet referring to trans women as “men in dresses.” Rowling’s reps later said she had liked the tweet by accident.
“Those of us in the trans community know what we see when we see it,” Burns said of the 2018 incident. “My conclusion back then was that she was just as transphobic as the average person.”
Burns’s piece flagged another liked tweet from Rowling’s account and a passage from one of her mystery novels that characterized a trans woman as “unstable and aggressive” and included a rape joke directed at the trans character.
“I’ve learned as a trans person to not have any heroes that aren’t trans,” Burns said. “Inevitably, they’ll disappoint me. It’s not fun liking a piece of mass culture or loving it with your whole being and then finding out that the person who created that rejects my entire life.”