Respect Equality

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling defends ‘transphobic’ tweets with lengthy essay

Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • Author J.K. Rowling was met with criticism Saturday night for tweets that many saw as transphobic.
  • Rowling has been called out in the past for views that seem to align with that of “TERFs,” or trans-exclusionary radical feminists.
  • A growing number of “Harry Potter” cast members and fans have expressed their disappointment in Rowling’s statements, zeroing in on the timing of her tweets in the midst of LGBTQ+ pride month and worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.

This past weekend was, some might say, stranger than fiction. Protests in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement hit their 11th day in a row on Sunday, with largely peaceful gatherings of people around the world banding together to demand an end to racially discriminatory policing. Scenes from Bristol in the United Kingdom saw civilians hurling a statue of Edward Colston, a 16th century slave trader, into the harbor. 

And as African Americans and supporters of the BLM movement continue to march toward progress, with the threat of the coronavirus pandemic omnipresent in the background, another marginalized group, the LGBTQ+ community, attempts to celebrate Pride Month in the midst of unprecedented circumstances. It seems like strange timing then that famous “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling would choose now to launch a series of tweets that would quickly be labeled as “transphobic,” causing outrage from the LGBTQ+ community and their allies.

Her controversial statements

On Saturday, Rowling tweeted a link to an opinion article that used the term “people who menstruate,” adding a snarky comment that read: ” ‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

“If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased,” she added in a following tweet. “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.”

Her statements on Saturday were met with wide backlash from fans and even celebrities, with singer-songwriter Halsey, who has identified as LGBTQ+, saying “Imagine writing a generation defining series about a youth uprisal that defeats a tyrannical monster motivated by the preservation of ‘pure blood’ and looking at THIS time in the world and going ‘hmm…yep. I’m gonna invalidate trans people.’ ”

Also responding to Rowling tweets was actress Katie Leung, who played the character Cho Chang in the “Harry Potter” series of films. “So, you want my thoughts on Cho Chang? Okay, here goes…(thread).” Included in her thread were links to read about and donate to organizations that support the Black Lives Matter movement and black members of the LGBTQ+ community, including a list by Vice of organizations that support black trans people. 

America is changing FASTER THAN EVER. Add Changing America to your Facebook and Twitter feeds to stay engaged on the latest news and smartest insights.


Leung has been joined by an increasing number of her former cast mates from the “Harry Potter” films in disavowing Rowling’s statements, including Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry and Emma Watson who played Hermione. Eddie Redmayne, who played Newt Scamander in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” and who has also played trans painter Lili Elbe in “The Danish Girl,” said in an interview with Variety that respect for transgender people should remain a “cultural imperative.” 

“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 responded to the backlash by a 3,600-word piece on her website to explain why she made her polarizing comments last weekend, sharing that she was “a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor” and holds “concerns around single sex spaces.”

“When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman — and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones — then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth,” writes Rowling.

Her comments have been been widely disavowed by trans advocates, who openly criticize the validity of her points against trans women. Why, they ask, would a man go to such lengths as to change his gender just to enter the bathroom if he wants to present himself as a threat to women, rather than simply enter?

“She is arguing against 1% of the population, who she recognizes is being harmed and marginalized — that is not a position of protecting your own rights [as a woman], that is becoming the oppressor,” says Emma Ritch, the executive director of women’s group Engender. 

“White women have always tried to control the definition of women and there is a legacy of black feminist and women of color who have fought against that singularity,” Ralph added. “White feminism…has a long lineage of scientific racism and biological essentialism and this is just another extension of that.”

A growing trend of TERFs?

Many are labeling Rowling and her comments as being in line with the acronym TERF, which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, and “JK Rowling is a TERF” and “TERF” trended on Twitter on Saturday night after the author posted her now infamous tweets. A small group of women largely found in the U.K., TERFs are women who do not validate transgender females’ gender identities and who have been leveraged in the past to impede political action toward transgender rights and equality in both the U.S. and the UK.

This isn’t the first time Rowling has asserted her absolutist views of sex on Twitter either, in the past tweeting out her support for an anti-trans researcher who was fired from her job at a think tank for what Rowling called “stating that sex is real.”

What to read instead 

Many fans of the “Harry Potter” series have expressed their dismay with Rowling’s ongoing anti-trans comments, urging people to pick up some other fantasy books that don’t minimize the LGBTQ+ community. One title that keeps popping up is K.A. Applegate’s “Animorphs,” a children’s science fantasy series about six humans who are able to transform into any animal they touch.

Those who grew up with fantasy books should also pick up “The Raven Tower,” in which gods meddle in the fate of humans on Earth, told from the perspective of one god as he whispers into the ear of a transgender warrior named Eolo. 

“The Priory of the Orange Tree” is a lengthy novel at more than 800 pages, and recommended as an 
“absolute must-read for lovers of epic fantasy craving LGBT+ representation,” by Book Bub. The cast of the book is made up primarily by “fierce and formidable women,” ranging from warriors and scientists to queens, and the detailed layering of characters has been compared to that of “A Game of Thrones.” 

Another fan favorite is “Captive Prince,” a fantasy trilogy which began as a self-published online serial in 2013. When it was picked up by Penguin Random House in 2015, gay male romance took center stage in the fantasy literary world. The books by C.S. Pacat follow Damen, a warrior hero and the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos, as he is sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation after his half-brother seizes power.