Her writing has lost its magic
J.K. Rowling was once known for her creation of the fantastical wizarding world of Harry Potter, but recently she’s been making headlines because of her transphobic views — and it seems like bigotry is the legacy she is invested in leaving behind.
J.K. Rowling’s obsession with trans people became obvious in June, when she posted a long explanation for why, as many queer and trans activists had been flagging up, she had been liking transphobic content on Twitter. Her justification for engaging with a tweet that referred to trans women as “men in dresses” was that she was doing research for her upcoming novel. Rowling also included many transphobic views in her 3,000-word post, expressing concern over the “misogyny” of trans activists silencing cis women who do not accept that trans women are women. Drawing on her experience of being a domestic abuse survivor, Rowling wrote: “I believe my government is playing fast and loose with womens and girls’ safety,” and that she “refuses to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it.”
Months later, the real reasons behind Rowling’s research have come to light: In her latest novel, Troubled Blood, she has made the villain a murderous man in a dress. A review of the novel published by the Daily Telegraph on Sunday mused: “One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress.” An excerpt of the book revealed that the murderer Rowling created didn’t simply wear a dress to conceal his identity, he wears a burqa. Despite spending several sentences of her June statement insisting that she wants all trans people — particularly trans women of color — to be safe, Rowling has not hesitated in writing a boogeyman character that will further entrench transphobia and racism in society.
The “man in a dress” trope has fueled discrimination against trans and queer people for generations, ossifying the idea that trans women aren’t women, but male predators seeking to attack “real” women in women-only spaces. Contemporarily, this idea is constantly used to block policies that would make society more trans-inclusive despite the lack of evidence that predators operate in this way. The racialized history of who is seen as a predator in society intersects with how trans people are seen as sexually deviant, creating a stereotype that will disproportionately affect trans women of color who are simply trying to live their lives in peace.
Though Rowling would have us believe that trans “ideology” is providing cover to sexual predators, the reality is that trans people are more likely to be the victims of sexual violence rather than the perpetrators of it.
Sexual violence is a serious and urgent issue that must be dealt with holistically, but Rowling’s novel — despite her self-delusions of protecting (White) women — will do more harm than good to the cause she defends. The stereotyping of minorities as predators — whether it’s a Black man, a Black trans woman or a queer White man — disrupts our ability to struggle against sexual violence as a structure of domination, and the people who are scapegoated are usually the ones who suffer most. While Rowling is fanning the flames of transphobia under the guise of protecting (White) women, it’s easy to forget that most sexual violence is perpetrated by acquaintances rather than evil strangers in a locker room and that 47% of transgender people will suffer sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Critically, the rates of sexual violence against trans people of color are much higher than the overall sample; Native American (65%), multiracial (59%), Middle Eastern (58%) and Black (53%) respondents of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey were the most likely survey participants to have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Though Rowling would have us believe that trans “ideology” is providing cover to sexual predators, the reality is that trans people are more likely to be the victims of sexual violence rather than the perpetrators of it.
Rowling’s choice to write a novel that centers this trope reveals the incapability of “gender-critical” feminists to decenter the victimization of White cisgender women in their critiques of heteropatriarchal society. Of course, cis women are victims of sexism — Rowling herself has been on the receiving end of sexism quite recently at the hands of a tabloid that platformed her abuser, which is awful and should not have happened. But her rigid view of the gender binary does not protect women, it simply creates standards for womanhood that even cis women — particularly those of color — will struggle to achieve. And people who don’t fit this binary, who might be seen as too masculine or androgynous, will increasingly be seen with suspicion the more we insist on it.
Trans women are women, and a traditional view of womanhood does not protect anybody from sexual violence. By insisting on reproducing this outdated, transphobic trope in her new crime novel, Rowling is punching down, being violently transmisogynistic, and further marginalizing a population that is already vulnerable. And her influence isn’t simply cultural, it is also political; the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee Ruth Maguire shared Rowling’s anti-trans essay, expressing approval, during a time when a bill reform that would make it easier for trans folks to change their registered gender — the very bill she criticized in her anti-trans essay — is being consulted on by the Scottish Parliament. Anti-trans lobbying groups have claimed her as a free-speech martyr, with stickers and posters with the words “I love JK Rowling” popping up in Edinburgh in July, claiming solidarity with the author.
The urgency of humane, accurate, and nondiscriminatory trans representation in pop culture cannot be overstated, along with policies that privilege self-determination and wider conceptions of gender. Unfortunately, the author whose creative work enchanted many of us in childhood is invested in becoming the villain of this part of history.