#parent | #kids | JK Rowling on Twitter: why has the Harry Potter writer been accused of transphobia – plus her tweets on ‘conversion therapy’ explained

What you need to know about the latest controversy with JK Rowling (Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
The controversy concerning the writer initially occurred after she responded to an article discussing menstruation products, taking issue with the phrase “people who menstruate”.

She has since gone on to release personal essays about the subject, which received backlash from fans and Harry Potter stars alike.

This is everything you need to know about the situation.

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On Saturday 6 June, JK Rowling quote tweeted an article with the title: “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.”

Rowling took issue with the phrasing, tweeting: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

The tweet sparked criticism, with some users taking issue with Rowling appearing to define women as “people who menstruate”.

In response to Rowling’s tweet, some Twitter users highlighted that transgender men experience menstruation, transgender women don’t, and other gender identities across the spectrum could also experience periods as well.

Why are the author’s tweets being called ‘transphobic’?

Rowling’s insistence that only women experience menstruation has been criticised as being transphobic by some Twitter users, who have pointed out that her comments are “just not accurate” when it comes to people who menstruate.

One person wrote: “Trans men who haven’t transitioned still menstruate.”

Another tweeted: “I know you know this because you have been told over and over and over again, but transgender men can menstruate. Non-binary people menstuate. I, a 37 year old woman with a uterus, have not menstruated in a decade. Women are not defined by their periods.”

The official Clue Twitter, an app designed to track menstrual cycles, also responded to the tweet, writing: “Hi @jk_rowling, using non-gendered language is about moving beyond the idea that woman = uterus. Feminists were once mocked for wanting to change sexist language, but it’s now common to say firefighter instead of fireman.

“It seems awkward right now to say “people who menstruate” but this is just like changing other biased language. Menstruation is a biological function; not a “woman thing”. It’s unnecessary to gender body parts and doing so can restrict healthcare access for those who need it.”

LGBTQ+ organisation GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) responded to Rowling’s comments, tweeting: “JK Rowling continues to align herself with an ideaology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people.”

GLAAD followed up by recommending people check out the Percy Jackson series by author Rick Riordan.

“By the way, looking for some summer reading? “Percy Jacson” author Rick Riordan isn’t transphobic #AllKidsDeserveRepresensation,” the non-profit organisation wrote.

Rowling responded to the backlash by posting a series of tweets to defend her earlier statements.

She tweeted: “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.

“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 nonsense.”

These additional comments were also met with subsequent backlash, with users labelling Rowling a ‘TERF’ which stands for “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist”.

One person replied to her tweets, writing: “As a physician, I want people to know that sex exists on a bimodal biological specturm just like gender exists on a bimodal sociological spectrum. While most identify as either female or male, there are intersex and trans individuals who identities are just as valid and real.”

Another wrote: “You’re a smart person. How d you not yet understand the difference between sex and gender? The only way I can possibly explain your ignorance at this point is willfulness. It’s incredibly disappointing.”

Someone else tried to explain how Rowling equating sex and gender was wrong, writing: “We’re not saying sex isn’t real. We’re saying it’s different from gender. My assigned sex at birth was male. But I identify as a woman.”

TV presenter Jonathan Ross, however, came to the writer’s defence, tweeting: “I just ate too many brownies. Again. Oh, and also. @jk_rowling is both right and magnificent. For those accusing her of transphobia, please read what she wrote. She clearly is not.”

Ross’ daughter, Honey, on the other hand criticised Rowling for her comments hours after her father went to her defence.

Honey took to Instagram, sharing a photoshopped picture of the cover of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which had been changed to read “Harry potter and the Audacity of This B***h.” Honey then also shared a tweet by a user who accused Rowling of “hating trans people”.

Ross then returned to Twitter later to take back his initial support for Rowling, tweeting: “These who know me will concede I try to be thoughtful & not a d***.

“Having talk to some people (OK, my daughters) re my earlier tweet, I’ve come to accept that I’m not in a position to decide what is or isn’t considered transphobic.”

What’s the blog post that Rowling published about?

On 10 June, the author posted a tweet that read “TERF wars” with a link to her website for a blog post titled: “J.K. Rowling writes about her reasons for speaking out on sex and gender issues.”

In the post, she revealed her experience with domestic abuse and sexual assault for the first time.

She wrote: “I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy, 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.”

In the 3,600 word essay, Rowling writes about her struggles with sexism and misogyny, adding that reading accounts of gender dysphoira by trans men had made her wonder “if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition”.

She wrote that she believed that misogyny and sexism were reasons behind the 4,400 per cent increase in the number of girls being referred for transitioning treatment in the past decade.

The essay has prompted heated debate online, with many Twitter users creating threads to debunk some claims about trans people that Rowling made in the essay, and with stars from the Harry Potter franchises responding to Rowling’s comments.

Did she compare hormone treatment to gay conversion therapy?

On 5 July, Rowling began a new Twitter thread to respond to a tweet that read: “Who had money on JK Rowling pivoting to supporting those who call people who take mental health medication “lazy”? I take daily medication to function, this sentiment is beyond offensive, it is actively harmful to millions.”

In response, Rowling wrote: “I’ve ignored fake tweets attributed to me and RTed widely. I’ve ignored porn tweeted at children on a thread about their art. I’ve ignored death and rape threats. I’m not going to ignore this. 1/11.”

In the thread, Rowling discussed her own mental health challenges and how she herself has taken anti-depressants in the past to help her.

She went on to write: “Many, myself included, believe we are watching a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people, who are being set on a lifelong path of medicalisation that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function.”

She wrote that “transition may be the answer for some”, but not for all – and posted a link to an account of a woman who “destransitioned” after briefly living as a trans man.

According to LGBT+ organisation Stonewall, detransitioning is extremely rare according to a 2019 study which showed that of the 3,398 trans patients who spoke to the NHS Gender Identity Service between 2016 and 2017, less than one per cent expressed regrets about transitioning or had detransitioned.

Her comments comparing hormone replacement therapy to gay conversion therapy has come under fire from a number of trans activists and allies.

Transgender model and activist Munroe Bergdorf tweeted: “J.K. Rowling is not a scientist. She is not a doctor. She is not an expert on gender. She is not a supporter of our community.

“She is a billionaire, cisgender, heterosexual, white woman who has decided she knows what is best for us and our bodies. This is not her fight.”

She added: “If you want to know what is best for trans people, listen to trans people.”

Nikkie de Jager, a YouTube makeup artist and transgender woman, tweeted: “… and to think I was such a fan of Harry Potter. you’re a disgrace @jk_rowling. you have no idea how much hurt you’re causing. shame on you.”

Artist Juno Birch also tweeted: “JK Rowling needs to be quiet immediately she is literally harming the trans community, she apparently just posted the clinic I went to as a child and said that they are experimenting on us, when in fact the Tavistock clinic saved my life.”

What did Lloyd Russell-Moyle say?

Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Labour MP, wrote an article in Tribune magazine which stated that the Harry Potter writer disclosure of experience of domestic abuse was part of a “divide and rule” tactic to undermine efforts to cement rights for transgender people.

In the article, Russell-Moyle wrote: “Recently, of course, we saw people like JK Rowling using her own sexual assault as justification for discriminating against a group of people who were not responsible for it.”

After the article sparked backlash against the MP, Russell-Moyle took to Twitter to issue an apology for his words.

He wrote: “I want to apologies unreservedly about the comments in the article that I wrote that last in Tribune regarding Trans rights in which I mention J.K Rowling. J.K Rowling’s first disclosures of domestic abuse and sexual assault in her recent article on Trans issues were heartfelt and must have been hard to say.

“While I may disagree with some of her analysis on trans rights, it is wrong of me to suggest that she used her own dreadful experience in anything other than good faith. I have asked Tribune to remove the line in question.”

How did Stephen King get involved?

Popular supernatural writer Stephen King got involved in the online controversy after retweeting a tweet by Rowling.

The tweet read: “Andrea Dworkin wrote: ‘Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence.’ It isn’t hateful for women speak about their own experiences, nor do they deserve shaming for doing so. 8/9”

The tweet was part of thread that Rowling wrote in response to the statements made by Russell-Moyle.

After her tweet was retweeted by King, Rowling wrote on Twitter: “I’ve always revered @StephenKing, but today my love reached – maybe not Annie Wilkes levels – but new heights.

Fans of the writer tweeted him to clarify his stance on transgender issues.

One wrote: “You should address the TERF tweet. By telling us constant readers if you believe trans women are women.”

King replied succinctly, writing: “Yes. Trans women are women.”

After his response to a fan affirming that trans women are women, Rowling subsequently deleted her tweet which praised The Shining author.

What did Margaret Atwood say?

The writer behind The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, showed her support for the transgender community in a series of tweets on Monday 6 July.

She wrote: “Some science here: “When Sex and Gender Collide.” #TransGenderWomen Biology doesn’t deal in sealed Either/Or compartments. We’re all part of a flowing Bell curve. Respect that! Rejoice in Nature’s infinite variety!”

Responding to critics, she followed up her tweets by writing: “What the piece is talking about is that sex and gender don’t always go together and are not experienced by all people in the same way. That appears to be undeniable.”

Atwood followed up again on Twitter, writing: “Nobody has said there aren’t “men” + “women”. But gender and sex are two different things.”

What did Rowling say about cancel culture?

150 writers and academics, including Rowling, recently signed an open letter “condemning intolerant climate for free speech”.

The letter, which was published in Harper’s Magazine, was signed by the likes of US intellectual Noam Chomsky, feminist Gloria Steinem and Matthew Yglesia, co-founder of liberal news analysis website Vox.

However, some of those who put their name to the letter have already begun to distance themselves from the document, saying that they didn’t know who else would be involved in lending their name.

Author and trans activist Jennifer Finney Boylan apologised for signing, saying: “I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming.”

The letter was criticised as it was explained that people, including celebrities and public figures, should be held accountable for their actions and their words.

One person wrote on Twitter, in response to the letter: “I don’t really understand what they think cancel culture is though? If Louis CK whips his dick out in front of unsuspecting women, I think it’s ok for me to say I don’t really want to go to his comedy shows? Like, I don’t have to give you my money or my time?”

Specifically referring to Rowling, another tweeted: “#JKRowling isn’t being #cancelled – she’s just facing the consequences of her own actions.”

What happened to her hand prints in Edinburgh?

Outside the grounds of City Chambers in Edinburgh, Rowling has a pair of golden hand prints engraved into the concrete.

The hand prints were covered with red paint in what is thought to be a targeted attack.

As well as the red paint, a transgender flag was also placed by the prints as well.

An Edinburgh local who wished to remain anonymous told Pink News that the red paint might symbolise how Rowling has “blood on her hands” regarding her comments about trans people.

The paint was cleared by a street cleaner.

How have Harry Potter stars responded?

Various members of the Harry Potter cast have taken to Twitter and other online platforms to respond to Rowling’s comments.

Daniel Radcliffe, who played the titular character of Harry Potter himself in the film adaptations of Rowling’s books, wrote a statement on the Trevor Project website, a charity that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth and one that Radcliffe has been involved with for over a decade.

Radcliffe wrote: “While Jo is unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken, as someone who has been honoured to work with and continues to contribute to The Trevor Project for the last decade, and just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something at this moment.

“Transgender women are women. 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 Jo or I.”

He added: “It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.”

Emma Watson, who portrayed Hermione Granger, took to Twitter to write: “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are. I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are.

“I donate to @Mermaids_Gender and @mamacash. If you can, perhaps you’ll feel inclined to do the same.”

All three stars the portrayed the trio in the films have now weighed in on the controversy, with Rupert Grint, who played Ron Weasely, also releasing a statement that said: “I firmly stand with the trans community. Trans women are women. Trans men are men. We should all be entitled to live with love and without judgement.”

Bonnie Wright, who played Ginny Weasley, tweeted: “If Harry Potter was a source of love and belonging for you, that love is infinite and there to take without judgement or question. Transwomen are women. I see and love you, Bonnie x”

Evanna Lynch, who plays Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series, shared screenshots from the iPhone notes app on Twitter responding to Rowling’s comments.

The notes started by saying: “I wanted to stay out of commenting on JKR’s tweets because it feels impossible to address the subject on Twitter but I am so saddened to see trans people feeling abandoned by the HP community, so here are my thoughts.”

The post continues: “I disagree with her opinion that cis-women are the most vulnerable minority in this situation and I think she’s on the wrong side of this debate.”

Eddie Redmayne, who stars at Newt Scarmander in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series, published a statement via Variety, which said: “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 Jo’s comments.”

Redmayne continued: “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.”

Miriam Margoyles, who played Professor Sprout in the franchise, said: “[Rowling] has a rather conservative view of transgender people. I don’t think I do.

“I can’t make it out. It’s a matter of personal happiness for people and I think that’s what you should concentrate on. If you seriously want to become a woman, you should be allowed to. You can be a fascist about it. I think it’s confusing.”

Warner Bros. also issued a statement in light of the controversy with Rowling.

The statement read: “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,” the company said in a statement.

“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.”

Has Rowling made statements like this in the past?

Rowling has come under criticism before for similar comments in the past.

In December 2019, she came out in support of a researcher who had lost her job after saying a person could not change their biological sex.

The researcher, Maya Forstater, had lost her job after tweeting: “Why I am so surprised at is that smart people who I admire, who are absolutely pro-science in other areas, and champion human rights & womens rights are tying themselves into knots to avoid saying the truth that men cannot change into women (because that might hurt men’s feelings).”

Rowling took to Twitter and wrote: “Dress however you please. 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.”

GLAAD previously issued a statement in regards to Rowling’s comments.

Anthony Ramon, head of talent at GLAAD, said: “J.K Rowling, whose books gave kids hope that they could work together to create a better world, has now aligned herself with an anti-science ideology that denies the basic humanity of people who are transgender.

“Trans men, trans women and non-binary people are not a threat, and to imply otherwise puts trans people at risk. Now is the time for allies who know and support trans people to speak up and support their fundamental right to be treated equally and fairly.”

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