Let me raise my hand as one of those who was shocked by JK Rowling’s tweets on Saturday evening.
Not because of her transphobic views, which erase, diminish, and harm the trans community – though it’s important to be clear that they do, especially since Rowling has such an enormous platform (14.5 million Twitter followers as of this morning, give or take how many may have tapped out over her tweets on the weekend), and counts among her fans millions of disenfranchised or othered people, both inside and outside the LGBTQ+ community, who felt seen or supported by the Harry Potter series. Sadly, she’s made those exclusionary, outdated views clear before.
What shocked me on the weekend wasn’t the fact that she held those harmful opinions per se, but the provocative, thumbing-her-nose language in her tweet that made it clear she was spoiling for a fight:
â€˜People who menstruate.â€™ Iâ€™m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate https://t.co/cVpZxG7gaA
Really? You’re doing this? You’re choosing a period of anti-racist uprising, a protest against fascist, comply-or-die (for Black people, mostly) law enforcement, to behave like a junior high boy writing graffiti on a school bus? “This is dumb, hahah!” She’s like a f*cking toxic Nelson Muntz, except with money and impunity.
It’s the petulant, faux-dumb language that got me. “Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” Obviously she’s trying to make a “joke” here, as a cover for what she wants to say (and does, more or less, in later tweets)…
Iâ€™ve spent much of the last three years reading books, blogs and scientific papers by trans people, medics and gender specialists. I know exactly what the distinction is. Never assume that because someone thinks differently, they have no knowledge. https://t.co/5kxnH3mZPf— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
If sex isnâ€™t real, thereâ€™s no same-sex attraction. If sex isnâ€™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 isnâ€™t hate to speak the truth.— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
The idea that women like me, whoâ€™ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because theyâ€™re vulnerable in the same way as women - ie, to male violence - â€˜hateâ€™ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences - is a nonsense.— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
I respect every trans personâ€™s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. Iâ€™d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe itâ€™s hateful to say so.— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
… which is ‘Only my definition of who ‘gets’ to be a woman, or have a period, is correct and the rest of you deserve to be mocked roundly’.
Remember, this is a woman whose most publicly lauded work is about standing up to fascists and bullies (though there are many, many examples of how the work falls short, ranging from problematic stereotypes in thinly-veiled ‘creatures’ to fatphobia.) It’s understandable that her fans would be heartbroken, especially when they were reminded that after her 2019 comments, GLAAD reached out to offer her an off-the-record conversation with members of the trans community, which… she declined.
Nope, nope, nope, JK Rowling doesn’t need any more education on anything, and whatever she believes is an immutable fact that will never be affected by societal change, the constant evolutions of language or, you know, revelations in scientific discovery.
But, to be clear, Rowling can choose, inexplicably, to horrify and blow up her own fan base if she wants to, as her refusal to apologize or correct herself or even ‘listen and learn’ after those 2019 comments made clear.
To unleash those ideas in a sneering, mocking tone on Twitter, though – a platform that (while deeply troubled itself) is actively being used to educate, organize, and protest against police brutality targeting Black people and their supporters – is nothing short of trolling. It’s actively harming people, and she did it anyway.
JK Rowling lives in the world, and on Twitter. She knows that her language is outdated, even if she doesn’t agree with that. She knows that trans people (especially trans people of colour) are disproportionately harmed and dying at the hands of people who think they have the right to pass judgment on the very premise of their identities. She knows language and online behavior has a real effect on people it targets – she’s a goddamn WRITER, for f*ck’s sake.
She just doesn’t care. In fact, that’s why she’s doing this. To try to sway her way of thinking back to being the ‘mainstream’. To use her enormous voice to shut down people who say things she doesn’t like.
That’s why I’m heartbroken. Not because JK Rowling is a troll – but because there are fans (or former fans) still trying earnestly to educate her. Fans who just realized they don’t exist in her eyes, according to her terms.
What became clear on the weekend is that JK Rowling, who made a literal billion dollars with stories built on the premise that you can stand up to what seems like insurmountable power and influence, doesn’t believe it’s true when it comes to what she says. She’ll mock people who think differently, casually deny the lives of people who fought for their very existence to be recognized, and pat herself on the back for doing so.
Which sounds a lot like someone else we know, doesn’t it?