J.K. Rowling explains 'intensely personal' reasons she spoke out on transgender issues

Raechal Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

J.K. Rowling is defending her views on transgender issues, even as many people on the internet, including actor Daniel Radcliffe and others who starred in the film adaptations of her Harry Potter books, continue to criticize her.

The author angered many June 6 when she commented on an article headlined, Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate, saying, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

J.K. Rowling has been criticized for her views on transgender people. (Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

After Rowling was called out, because people who don’t identify as women menstruate, too, she argued that people were wrongly “erasing the concept of sex.”

In the days since that exchange, several actors who’ve appeared in movies based on Rowling’s work have publicly disagreed with her. “Transgender women are women,” Radcliffe, who played the title character in her most famous film franchise, wrote in an essay for the non-profit LGBTQ organization Trevor Project. “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.”

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them star Eddie Redmayne said much the same: “Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative, and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself. This is an ongoing process. As someone who has worked with both J.K. Rowling and members of the trans community, I wanted to make it absolutely clear where I stand. I disagree with [Rowling’s] comments. Trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid. I would never want to speak on behalf of the community but I do know that my dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities, which all too often results in violence and abuse. They simply want to live their lives peacefully, and it’s time to let them do so.”

On Wednesday, Rowling shared a 3,600-word essay on her website, in which she outlined the reasons she feels compelled to speak out on the issue and why she’s “worried about the new transgender activism.”

She explained that she’s been interested in trans issues for several years because, professionally, she’s writing a crime series with a character who’s affected by the same issues. Personally, her reasons included being “a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor.”

“I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy,” Rowling wrote, “but out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces.”

She defended her earlier argument, when she said, “But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume. ‘Woman’ is not an idea in a man’s head. ‘Woman’ is not a pink brain, a liking for Jimmy Choos or any of the other sexist ideas now somehow touted as progressive. Moreover, the ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning. I understand why trans activists consider this language to be appropriate and kind, but for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating.”

After Rowling published her essay, the Human Rights Campaign responded in a statement from the organization’s president, Alphonso David, given to Variety:

The fact that J.K. Rowling is doubling down in using her massive platform to spread anti-trans propaganda while refusing to respond to outreach by LGBTQ groups like the Human Rights Campaign is appalling. As one of the most famous women in the world and one whose work has inspired countless LGBTQ young people to imagine a world of acceptance and inclusivity, she bears an extra responsibility to ensure that her words do not do damage. Let me be clear: J.K. Rowling is trafficking in harmful lies at a time when the trans community is facing unspeakable violence. At least twenty-six transgender and gender non-confirming people were killed in 2019. 2020 has already seen at least twelve transgender or gender non-conforming people killed. Trans women are women, and Rowling’s attempt to hide behind the mantle of trans-exclusive feminism hurts both the trans and feminist communities. Rowling’s words are inflicting harm on the transgender and non-binary community, who are already among the world’s most marginalized and endgangered [sic] populations. If she won’t listen to trans advocates about the harm she is causing, she does not deserve her platform.

Warner Bros., the company behind the blockbuster adaptations of Rowling’s Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series, condemned her words in the same publication:

The events in the last several weeks have firmed our resolve as a company to confront difficult societal issues. Warner Bros.’ position on inclusiveness is well established, and fostering a diverse and inclusive culture has never been more important to our company and to our audiences around the world. We deeply value the work of our storytellers who give so much of themselves in sharing their creations with us all. We recognize our responsibility to foster empathy and advocate understanding of all communities and all people, particularly those we work with and those we reach through our content.

GLAAD offered its own statement: 

It seems JK is good at only one thing: writing fantasy. Her misinformed and dangerous missive about transgender people flies in the face of medical and psychological experts and devalues trans people accounts of their own lives. She is sowing divisiveness in a time when real leaders are driving toward unity. And to all the trans and cisgender youth raised on her books who are now loudly speaking up in support of the trans people you know and love, you are the future and we can’t wait to read and watch the beautiful art you will create.

The cast and creator of Pose, the FX drama set in 1980s New York City, which features several trans characters, condemned Rowling’s essay. They deemed her words “harmful” and “not necessary,” among other things.

“I think she’s speaking from this place of just sheer stupidity,” cast member Indya Moore told Variety. “I mean, it’s just so dumb. She’s not even understanding how much death and violence are behind all of those opinions that she’s sharing on social media right now. Like she’s contributing to so much violence through her airing out her thoughts and ideas and opinions. She’s contributing to a stigma that is continuing to take our lives today.”

This story was originally published June 9 at 1:50 p.m. and has been updated to include statements from GLAAD and Warner Bros.

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