Written by Millie Smith
Illustration by Rachel Fitzjohn
JK Rowling is undoubtedly most well known for writing the Harry Potter series. The widely popular book series has sold over 500 million books worldwide, being translated into over 80 languages, not to mention the hugely popular film adaptations that are loved by Potter fans around the globe. JK Rowling has, without question, had a hugely successful career, but her recent remarks regarding the transgender community have caused people to see her and her work through a vastly different light.
In June 2020, JK Rowling tweeted “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” (@jk_rowling Twitter) in response to an article which focused on “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate”.
The tweet, which suggested that only women can menstruate, caused uproar amongst the transgender community and its allies. The backlash, however, was not enough to refrain JK Rowling from making further statements and explaining herself. She went on to tweet “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. 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,” She argues that her life is shaped by being a female and that we cannot ignore the idea of sex as “erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.” Whilst Rowling ended the thread of comments stating she supports the transgender community and would happily march alongside them, many in the community were left outraged and their perception of the author changed.
The thread led to debate and discussions on social media surrounding the issue, where the general consensus was that being a woman does not equal having a uterus and vice versa. People agreed that Rowling’s comments were outdated and that non-gendered language must now be the new normal.
Rowling has a history of controversy with the LGBT+ community, her anti-trans statements in June are not the first time she’s caused uproar and outrage amongst the community. Rowling has previously supported Maya Forstater, who had filed a lawsuit against her employer who she believed had discriminated against her because he had shared anti-LGBT beliefs on twitter, in 2018, she interacted with a Twitter post that referred to transgender women as “men in dresses”, and her more recent tweets have confirmed beliefs that Rowling is a TERF (transgender exclusionary radical feminist). This is not the first time that Rowling has angered and upset the LGBT+ community and, also, many of her fans; however, this seems to be the turning point for many to move away from supporting her and her work.
Clue, a period and ovulation tracking organisation focused on educating people about their body’s, periods and ovulation. Clue shared the following in response to Rowling’s comments;
“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.”
Their comments emphasised the need to change our terminology and our approach to biological functions being non-gendered. They bring attention to the mocking of feminists for wanting to change sexist language, which is now commonplace. It is no longer seen as uncomfortable or unusual to challenge language which could be perceived as sexist and look for inclusive alternatives. This is what needs to happen with using non-gendered language, it should be commonplace to confront gendered language to make it inclusive. With that in mind, it seems that Rowling still refuses to change her perception that only women menstruate.
Other organisations have previously condemned Rowling and her comments, such as Glaad and HRC. HRC, Human Rights Campaign, responded “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary people are non-binary. CC: JK Rowling.” Whilst Glaad more recently shared, “We stand with trans youth, especially those Harry Potter fans hurt by her inaccurate and cruel tweets.” It is clear that in 2020, LGBT+ communities and fans of Rowling won’t stand to accept her controversial comments.
So, what does this mean for Harry Potter? With the stars of the Harry Potter films standing with the trans community against her comments, and fans of the novel series calling her out on her anti-trans statements, the future of Harry Potter and her other works is uncertain. However, many fans believe they are able to separate the work from the author, that they view Harry Potter as an entirely individual entity – one they are able to still enjoy without the hauntings of its authors comments. Due to the vast popularity of the Harry Potter books, films, and even the Studio Tour, it is unlikely we will see this ‘cancelled’. Too many people adore the series for it to disappear from our book shops and screens, however, it is likely that we’ll see people detach the work from its creator.
JK Rowling has undoubtedly upset and outraged many over the last few months with her controversial statements regarding the trans community. Harry Potter now sees itself disconnected from Rowling herself, as people support the work and fantasy world she has created, rather than Rowling herself. Rowling has been seen as a friend to many, a comfort to her readers and watchers; now, Rowling has unintentionally detached herself with her comments from those who love her work so much.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, JK Rowling.