In the past six months, JK Rowling has been called out twice by many people for statements that have been termed as ‘anti-trans’.
In the first instance, which happened in December 2019, Rowling was criticised for defending a woman, Maya Foster, a tax researcher, after she tweeted against the UK government’s Gender Recognition Act that allowed people to legally change their gender. Foster’s tweets that were termed transphobic resulted in her getting terminated from her job.
In response to this, Rowling wrote that forcing women out of their jobs for stating sex is real ‘is unfair’ and even used the hashtag #IStandWithMaya.
Rowling faced severe backlash for this statement, but her tweets a couple of days ago on menstruation have drawn even further criticism, with several people calling her out for being a closet transphobe. Journalist Sohini Das Gupta told Free Press, who grew up reading the Harry Potter series expressed disgust at her statement where she said, "‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?"
“She's either not updated her thoughts and vocabulary in the constantly evolving world of gender sensitisation, or is aware and crying out for attention. Either way, it's quite sad,” Sohini said.
Calling Rowling’s tweet ‘unnecessary’, Sohini added, “It comes across as a self-involved dig at the attempt to include trans women and non-binary youth in the conversation about menstruation. People have their own distinct journeys and battles, it's terrible to dismiss an attempt at larger inclusion as performative wokeness. At a time when people on the fringes are finally being taken into the folds of some mainstream conversation, what is she intending to achieve with that kind of random unprovoked snark?”
The Free Press Journal over the weekend, wrote an article defending Rowling’s stance, despite the criticism she has been receiving over stating that biological sex was real.
The debate over Rowling’s statements has reached a point where even Daniel Radcliffe, who is close to Rowling, and his co-star Katie Leung, who played Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movies issued statements.
A 2016 Scientific American study shows that a number of transgender women have attempted to have uterus transplants, so that they can conceive a child. While the transgender women have expressed hope at this possibility, science shows that it is a long way from this becoming a reality. However, scientists have not given up hope about the idea, as the article suggests, but are yet to even begin animal trials, leave alone look at a theoretic possibility for this to happen.
When it comes to menstruation, however, it is a different ballgame. Transgender men, have experienced menstruation during their transformation from woman to man, and several people have spoken about the discomforts that they have faced because of this. One person told journalist Jen Bell that: “My period ruins my entire mood and often involves suicidal ideation, due to how strongly it magnifies my gender dysphoria. I try to hide it, pretend that I don't get one, and that I don't even have a uterus. It's so stressful because so many people refuse to see me as the gender I am already. If they knew I menstruated I would never be able to gain their acknowledgement and respect.”
Transgender model and activist Kenny Ethan Jones even came out to discuss male menstruation. In January of this year, he told NBC News that he experiences a “wide range of challenges with his monthly bleeding, especially when it comes to getting his hands on menstrual hygiene products.”
While Jones’ problem is faced by millions of transgender men across the world, Dr Seema Misra-Thakur, a biochemist, who lives in Australia, said that there is another problem. While speaking to the Free Press Journal, she said that her daughter, who attends an all-girls school, has a classmate who identified as male. “The students and teachers are empathetic, but over summer, the child had surgery and the school has no toilets for males,” she said, adding that there was a lot of research being done regarding reproduction on trans people, but there was nothing conclusive that had come out as yet.
While the criticism has been sharp, Rowling has also received support. In his essay, JK Rowling is Right—Sex Is Real and It Is Not a “Spectrum”, evolutionary biologist Colin Wright said, “The binary distinction between ovaries and testes as the criterion determining an individual’s sex is not arbitrary, nor unique to humans. The evolutionary function of ovaries and testes is to produce either eggs or sperm, respectively, which must be combined for sexual reproduction to take place. If that didn’t happen, there would be no humans. While this knowledge may have been cutting edge science in the 1660s, it’s odd that we should suddenly treat it as controversial in 2020.”
Rowling has also been criticised for her constant changing of the Harry Potter universe. Adding a black Hermione just for the sake of inclusivity is the first thing that comes to mind. Her description of Hermione is someone who had bushy hair, brown eyes and someone who went white when she was in a state of shock. The inclusion of a black Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child annoyed a lot of fans, even though Rowling expressed delight.
Her remarks on Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality has also been a constant debate. While the LGBT+ community hailed her admission that Dumbledore was gay, the same crowd was upset and called Rowling out when Jude Law’s Dumbledore, who was reportedly in love with his arch nemesis Grindelwald, looked at him as a ‘brother’ in the movie.
I'll admit that these factors have annoyed me as a fan of the series, but I'll also acknowledge that the Harry Potter series that I have grown up reading have spoken about inclusivity, friendship, love, and the fact that being different does not matter. She has been sensitive to the rights of the less fortunate, as her Harvard commencement speech shows. She's not someone to keep quiet about an issue, and her defence of Serena Williams is one of the many example of this.
She may have said something that has offended a number of people, including actress-turned author Mara Wilson. And if trans activists are offended about Rowling's statements, I wonder how they would react to Ricky Gervais. And no, he isn't transphobic either!