Previously beloved author J.K. Rowling has come under fire for transphobic, homophobic and insensitive rhetoric through her tweets and even within the Harry Potter Universe. Many people have called her a TERF— so first, let’s break down what a TERF is and then dive into Rowling’s beliefs.
At the base level, TERF stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. This is a group of “feminists” who believe that trans women are not women and reject them from the feminist movement. When someone is a TERF, they “deny the validity of transgender people and transgender identities,” stated Sarah McBride, the press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. This leaves a wide section of feminists out of the movement and further excludes the voices and stories of transgender individuals.
A TERF cannot call themselves a true feminist. While feminism strives for social, economic and political equality between all sexes, TERFs willfully leave out trans women (or any transgender individual) from the conversation. Their feminism is purely performative and used to boost themselves without empowering anyone else.
Moving on to J.K. Rowling, there is plenty to unpack with her and her performative feminism. In the past, her tweets have had fans, trans individuals and even some of the actors in the Harry Potter movies upset. JKR has claimed that trans individuals are not discriminated against like females are and has liked tweets claiming that trans women are just “men in dresses.” She has also recently tweeted support for a store who sells items with phrases such as, “Transactivism is Misogyny,” “No such thing as a lesbian with a penis,” “Transmen are my sisters,” and “Notorious Transphobe.”
Her most recent monstrosity is her newest book, “Troubled Blood.” Her novel follows a cisgender man who dresses as a woman in order to get closer to his murder victims and ultimately kill them as a way to deal with a troubled past. According to the Daily Beast, it spouts the harmful rhetoric of cross-dressing as a coping mechanism for trauma and as fetishization, which has continuously, and wrongfully, been used to explain anyone who does not follow gender normative standards. Given her transphobic past, it is evident that JK Rowling uses her huge fan base to spout her ideals and delegitimize trans people and their experiences by showcasing that crossdressers and trans people are a product of their environment. It wrongfully simplifies their experience and puts them at a higher risk for hate crimes.
The pseudonym Rowling used to sell this book does not help her case either. While Robert Galbraith may seem innocuous at first glance, the name is shared by the inventor of electroshock “therapy” for LGBTQ+ people. Some people believe this to be an innocent mistake, though a simple Google search could have told her of the name’s sinister past. Given Rowling’s beliefs, this name choice asserts that this TERF is cis, straight and therefore better than others.
What does this mean for Harry Potter fans? While you can still enjoy these characters and the books, it is important to be aware of the many racial and social biases that have been included in them. Descriptions of one character in the books, Rita Skeeter, include “heavily-jawed…penciled on eyebrows… large-manish hands.” It’s hard to not see that Rowling intended this to be a caricature of a trans woman. Rowling also wrote the Goblins of Gringotts similar to anti-semitic caricatures of Jewish people and the one Black character has the last name of “Shacklebolt.” Finally, the East-Asian character, named Cho Chang, was a Ravenclaw. This Hogwarts house is for students who are well known for their knowledge and learning abilities, according to Harry Potter Wiki, which are characteristics that are often used when profiling East Asian people.
Feel free to continue to enjoy these books and characters, since many people have grown up with them. However, be mindful that any licensed merchandise will support Rowling. Many Esty shops sell unlicensed merchandise, and buying from them allows you to still show your love for the books while stating your disagreement with Rowling and her beliefs. I personally love the shirt I got from ShopGeorginaDesigns that says, “It’s pretty magical how Harry Potter has no author.”
While JK Rowling tries to take the power away from others, we can stand up to her and other TERFs. Real feminists support trans people and recognize their own privilege as a way to uplift the voices of marginalized people.
Edited by Rachel Johnson