J.K Rowling called out for transphobia

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has received backlash after readers called out her new novel, Troubled Blood, for being transphobic. (Jonathan Hordle/Shutterstock)

Readers accused Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling of being transphobic after the release of her latest novel, Troubled Blood, on Sept. 15.

Her novel, written under the pen name Robert Galbraith sparked outrage over one of its characters, a cisgender male who disguises himself as a woman and murders women. 

Fourth-year sociology major Ethan Babineau, a transgender man, said he was disappointed but unsurprised about Rowling’s views.

“The controversy surrounding Rowling has been around for a long time,” he said.

“The trans community has picked up on signs related to Rowling being a TERF – a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. This is just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Rowling made multiple Twitter posts on June 6 that are considered transphobic. One was a retweet of a menstrual equality article with the caption,”‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

Following negative feedback from Twitter users, Rowling posted an essay on her website titled “J.K Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues.”

“The ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanizing and demeaning,” Rowling wrote.

“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.”

First-year student Gabri Sparks, a Harry Potter fan, said Rowling’s statements have changed the way she sees the franchise.

“It’s depressing because I love reading the books. I feel dirtier and less likely to reread [them now],” she said.

Babineau said Rowling’s statements on Twitter may have a negative impact on the transgender community. He has encountered transphobia when looking for therapy and mental health resources.

“[Rowling’s book] contributes to the ‘man in a dress’ idea of transfeminine and non-binary people, which puts people at risk who are just trying to live their lives,” he said.

Kathleen McConnell, an English professor at St. Thomas University, said Rowling’s novel is problematic but there should be a separation between the author and her works. Rowling’s novel isn’t a biography but she made the decision to pick a protagonist that would upset some people.

McConnell said it’s hard to predict the long-term effects of this controversy on Rowling’s legacy, but it could change how her books are studied. Readers are going to be less likely to read Rowling for fun without thinking about the author.

“I think [people] will be less likely to just accept it for its entertainment value without asking what’s underpinning that value,” she said.

Sparks and Babineau both hope positives can come from this negative situation. Sparks said she feels a sense of ease that some Harry Potter fans realize that Rowling’s transphobic actions are not accepted in the fandom. 

“What I hope will come from this is more listening to trans people, specifically transfeminine people,” said Babineau.