JK Rowling has outed herself as a TERF. A tweet she wrote in December promoted the common and dangerous misconception that transgender women are biological men. Many fans, including myself, are incredibly sad; her audience is young, generally diverse and inclusive, and to see that she does not mirror this, although perhaps not surprising, is a disappointing realisation. She was an author many looked up to for her inspirational life story, but more than anything for the magical world she created. Harry Potter provided an escape for readers that needed one. Discovering that Rowling lacked the understanding and compassion of her young audience in relation to the existence rights of trans people is a huge blow.
This article will not waste time arguing whether Rowling was correct or not. The Glasgow Guardian does not see trans lives or rights as an opinion to debate. Instead this article is a discussion of whether the artist can be separated from their work in this specific case. This article will discuss potential ways forward and I conclude that a boycott of her work would feed into the “snowflake culture” bigoted people have created to tarnish millennials with and let her win. Instead fans could instead see themselves as the rightful owners of Harry Potter and feel no guilt at all, because the franchise, and its role in childhoods, completely transcends the author.
To start, this is what Rowling tweeted: “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”.
Her tweet was supporting Maya Forstater, a woman who took her former employer to court over claims she was discriminated against based on her “philosophical belief” that trans women are biological men. Forstater’s case was dismissed, but Rowling took it upon herself to side with someone who literally lost their job for being exclusionary and ignorant. This tweet and her chequered past on trans rights can be totally dissected, and has been by LGBTQ+ activists, so will not be discussed here; for more information on this, Jackson Bird writes an excellent opinion piece in The New York Times.
As a result, what can be taken by Rowling’s words is that she has confirmed herself as what is called a TERF, a Trans Radical Exclusionary Feminist. Viv Smythe coined the term in 2008 to distinguish a certain group of cis-het women as exclusionary towards trans women, to show that feminism is not monolithic. Since then, the word TERF has been prolific online as trans people are becoming more visible and represented, and feminists are revealing themselves as anti-trans. Therefore, there is a huge moral difficulty in whether you can separate these people’s view from their work. Rowling has not committed a crime, but her words cut deep. I don't really need to emphasise this when she has a 14 million following on Twitter, mostly young people, combined with the fact over half of trans people in the UK have contemplated ending their own lives. Trans people get enough hate without an influential person adding to their burden.
Therefore there is obviously a compelling argument to completely ditch her and her work forever. It is easy to stop giving Rowling attention and a platform by just ignoring and unfollowing her. Boycotting the next Fantastic Beasts film will also personally affect her, not only because of an ego knock, but she could lose money, or at least not earn as much. Although this is convincing, I strongly argue that doing this sadly feeds into the so-called “snowflake culture” that people like Rowling have created to look like everything they do can be deemed as offensive by millennials. This could add fuel to her fire and push her further into bigotry, confirming her idea that she has done nothing wrong.
Let this be clear, being upset and disappointed about Rowling being anti-trans is in no way an overreaction, but we have seen too well that this is how the mainstream media and fellow TERFs will play this. We must play them back, because Harry Potter is not JK Rowling. It is so big; it completely transcends her authorship. It created a whole community/fandom that became a saviour for some people. This should not be taken away by one small-minded woman. Rowling has a huge platform which makes her accountable for her works and her personal words – so scrutinise her, educate her, be better than her and show her why she is so, so wrong. Do not ever punish yourself for loving her work; recognise the flaws but give your childhood a break. It is unfortunate that it took her ignorance to prompt a wider conversation online and in traditional media about trans rights, yet even if Rowling herself is beyond change and education, perhaps more people have been educated as a result. Maybe there can be hope in real life that more people will challenge transphobia.
Do not let Rowling win on this. Show her that her “opinion” is not an opinion, that it is hateful and dangerous, and trans people exist and their rights matter. Show her that she is left behind and alienated from the very people who supported her work most. Make Harry Potter about your experience, not about her ignorance.