How Much of J.K. Rowling's Transphobia Will Be Too Much Transphobia for Warner Bros.? [Updated]

Rowling attending the UK premiere of The Crimes of Grindelwald in 2018.
Rowling attending the UK premiere of The Crimes of Grindelwald in 2018.
Image: John Phillips/Stringer (Getty Images)

Because, as it turns out, the level of transphobia Warner Bros. seems ready to look past from J.K. Rowling is already a considerably large amount.

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For years, Harry Potter author—and the current architect of the franchise’s expansion at Warner Bros. through the Fantastic Beasts saga—J.K. Rowling has faced allegations of transphobia for what has become an ongoing series of social media actions that have been defended as “middle-aged moment” gaffes and errors by her press team. But those defenses undermined what has become a fuller picture of Rowling embracing and actively sharing messages that discriminate against transgender people.

In 2018, Rowling’s representatives claimed the author experienced a “clumsy and middle-aged moment” while liking a tweet that decried that “men in dresses” receive more support than women in “brocialist” spaces. Outside of the Harry Potter franchise—which in and of itself has long faced accusations of questionable depictions of minority groups, beyond repeated calls for the franchise to acknowledge its lackluster LGBTQ representation—Rowling’s work on the Cormoran Strike detective novels (published under the pen name Robert Galbraith) has faced scrutiny for its own depiction of trans characters.

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Late last year, Rowling re-ignited accusations of transphobia after tweeting support for researcher Maya Forstater after her legal appeal to overturn her dismissal at the Centre for Global Development failed. The researcher’s contract at the Centre for Global Development think tank wasn’t renewed after Forstater was found by UK courts to have “used language that is ‘intimidating, hostile, degrading, [and] humiliating’” to trans people.

Just over a week ago in late May, Rowling once again stoked controversy while retweeting a piece of art drawn by a nine-year-old child of the Ickabog—a fictional creature created by Rowling for a new fairytale story that she has petitioned children to illustrate for a contest. The author included transphobic commentary about Tara Wolf, a trans woman and activist charged and fined for assaulting gender writer (and anti-trans campaigner) Maria Maclachlan in 2018. Rowling deleted the tweet, which included the sentence “In court, Wolf claimed the Facebook post in which he’d said he wanted to ‘fuck up some TERFS’ [standing for ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist,’ an anti-trans hate movement that believes granting rights to trans people actively harms the rights of cisgender women] was just ‘bravado.’” In a follow-up tweet, she described the mishap as “very un-Ickaboggish,” alleging that the commentary came from a message she had “just received” and incorrectly copied and pasted into her tweet. Although it was not word-for-word accurate, The Daily Dot found that Rowling’s message used language seemingly lifted from a transphobic writeup of Wolf’s case that repeatedly misgenders Wolf.

Rowling’s now-deleted tweet sharing a child’s fan art alongside transphobic messaging.
Rowling’s now-deleted tweet sharing a child’s fan art alongside transphobic messaging.
Screenshot: Jill Pantozzi/Gizmodo
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Rowling apologized for the incident but then immediately stated that she was not sorry for “reading about the assault,” describing criticism that she was once again receiving for sharing transphobic messaging to her 14.5 million Twitter followers as “thought crime,” “censorship,” and “authoritarianism.”

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This history of alleged misliked social media posts and accidental copy-pastes brings us to this past weekend, where, for better and worse, Rowling made her stance on sharing transphobic views unequivocally clear. Sharing a Devex opinion piece about gender issues in relation to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, Rowling mocked the piece’s choice to use the inclusive language “people who menstruate” in its headline.

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As people began to push back on her mockery—seeing it as discriminatory as she was mocking the language’s acknowledgment that people of many genders, and not all cisgendered women, menstruate—Rowling entrenched her position even further, first citing alleged scientific reading, lesbian and gay friends, and then that she herself has trans friends and purportedly supports trans people (in spite of the aforementioned, ongoing, and lengthy allegations of her own transphobia thanks to her past actions) in a series of tweets that conflated biology and gender identity to incorrectly claim that if the former “isn’t real,” then LGBTQ people of any spectrum would not exist.

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Rowling concluded the argument equivocating the use of the term “TERF” as being on par accusations of witchcraft and gendered slurs, and quoting an opinion piece from “GLBT” website, the Velvet Chronicle, which regularly runs pieces discriminating against trans people.

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That Rowling has now become combative about accusations of her transphobia is perhaps less shocking, given her repeated examples in the past. But that she chose to do so in a moment of international outrage and demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality towards black people across the world in the wake of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd is truly baffling. The international outrage for the killing of Floyd has also pushed to recognize the recent killing of Tony McDade by Tallahassee police, amid ongoing concerns of what has been described by the American Medical Association as an epidemic of trans hate crime. Of the 26 trans and non-binary people murdered in the United States in 2019, according to the Human Rights Campaign, 19 were identified as black.

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The Black Lives Matter movement, which Rowling has expressed support for in wake of the recent protests in London, makes it explicit in its messaging that the lives of black trans people also matter. Rowling cannot claim to support one without the other, hiding behind her privilege and her alleged LGBTQ friends while doing so.

Rowling’s beliefs have long had Harry Potter fans questioning their own love of the series. This latest incident has raised questions not just for those fans, but now also for Warner Bros., the studio shepherding the current future of the Harry Potter franchise’s adaptations—and licensing those adaptations out for everything from merchandise to Universal Studio’s theme park. It’s a future Rowling herself is directly a part of, having written Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and its sequel The Crimes of Grindelwald, co-written the upcoming third entry of the saga, and on tap to be involved in the production of at least two more.

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The studio has declined to comment about the accusations of transphobia Rowling has faced in the past. It has been able to hide behind the fact that these moments were, as much as they can be in the realm of social media, in the shadows—a mis-liked tweet here, an accidental copy-paste there. Now that Rowling herself has brought these allegations directly out into the open, it can no longer have the respite of remaining silent about one of its most high-profile franchises and the creator still profiting from it.

And yet, it continues to do so. io9 has reached out to both Warner Bros. and J.K Rowling’s representatives seeking comment and clarification about the author’s statements this weekend. While representatives for Rowling declined to comment further, we’ve yet to hear back from Warner Bros.—we’ll update this piece if and when we do.

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Update: 6/10 4 p.m. EST: Today, J.K. Rowling posted an essay to her official website addressing the history of transphobic allegations against her and the reasoning behind her gender beliefs. You can read her 3,670-words-long response here.

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

Spaceman_99
Spaceman_99

My thoughts on what I will do going forward:

I love the Potter books. I re-read them frequently. My kids have started to read them. They are enjoyable and entertaining worlds filled with great worldbuilding.

Nothing Rowling does today will take that away.

But I also cannot ignore her continued transphobia and abysmal statments.

So like Michael Bay, like OSC, like Frank Miller, I will no longer pay any money, or support in any way their future projects until they show they regocnize their problems and are showing us they are working to become better.

This is me turning my back on anything she does in the future. Books, movies, whatever. I will not help give her money as long as she remains the close-minded bigot.

I’ll still re-read the books I already own. I’ll still let my kids enjoy them. But i’ll also have conversations with my kids why she is wrong. Why her bigotry and racism inside the Potter books is wrong.