You would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the J.K. Rowling Twitter controversy.
The Harry Potter author’s recent comments about the concept of biological sex sparked a huge online backlash from followers, with the 54-year-old now finding herself at the centre of a transphobia debate on Twitter.
But with the conversation progressing at lightening speed and an increasing number of Harry Potter actors and other high profile names getting involved to voice their own views, what is actually going on?
We’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know…
J.K. Rowling’s tweets
The controversy began last Saturday when J.K. Rowling publicly responded to an opinion piece from Devex, finding fault with the use of the phrase ‘people who menstruate’.
Responding via Twitter, the author opened a conversation about biological sex. ‘I’m sure there used to be a word for those people,’ she posted. ‘Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’
This comment prompted intense backlash, criticised of having transphobic connotations.
J.K. Rowling later responded to the criticism: ‘If sex isn’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 isn’t hate to speak the truth.’
In the days that followed, a wave of online users voiced their disappointment in the author’s comments, with some claiming the Harry Potter series and community had been tarnished for them.
Harry Potter cast reactions
High profile names have been publicly standing against the author’s divisive comments, from Jameela Jamil to Jonathan Van Ness, with Harry Potter cast members among those who have got involved.
‘Transgender women are women,’ Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe stated in a personal essay he wrote for the Trevor Project’s website. ‘Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.’
He continued: ‘It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.
‘To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you.’
Emma Watson, known predominantly for her role as Hermione in the franchise also spoke out, encouraging her followers to donate to trans charities alongside the personal statement:
‘Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are. I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are.’
‘I firmly stand with the trans community and echo the sentiments expressed by many of my peers,’ Rupert Grint added in a statement released to The Times. ‘Trans women are women. Trans men are men. We should all be entitled to live with love and without judgement.’
Luna Lovegood actress Evanna Lynch also weighed in, agreeing with her former cast mates, but asking fans not to ‘bully or hate people on the other side of the debate.
‘I think it’s irresponsible to discuss such a delicate topic over Twitter through fragmented thoughts and I wish Jo wouldn’t,’ she commented on J.K. Rowling’s Twitter activity. ‘That said, as a friend and admirer of Jo I can’t forget what a generous and loving person she is…she is still fighting for vulnerable people. I disagree with her opinion that cis-women are the most vulnerable minority in this situation and I think she’s on the wrong side of this debate. But that doesn’t mean she has completely lost her humanity.’
J.K. Rowling’s blog post
J.K. Rowling has since responded to the backlash, writing a blog post entitled, ‘J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues’.
‘Late on Saturday evening, scrolling through children’s pictures before I went to bed, I forgot the first rule of Twitter – never, ever expect a nuanced conversation – and reacted to what I felt was degrading language about women,’ the author writes in her blog post. ‘I spoke up about the importance of sex and have been paying the price ever since. I was transphobic, I was a cunt, a bitch, a TERF, I deserved cancelling, punching and death. You are Voldemort said one person, clearly feeling this was the only language I’d understand.’
She later continued: ‘I’ve been in the public eye now for over twenty years and have never talked publicly about being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor. This isn’t because I’m ashamed those things happened to me, but because they’re traumatic to revisit and remember. I also feel protective of my daughter from my first marriage. I didn’t want to claim sole ownership of a story that belongs to her, too. However, a short while ago, I asked her how she’d feel if I were publicly honest about that part of my life, and she encouraged me to go ahead.’
‘I managed to escape my first violent marriage with some difficulty, but I’m now married to a truly good and principled man, safe and secure in ways I never in a million years expected to be. However, the scars left by violence and sexual assault don’t disappear, no matter how loved you are, and no matter how much money you’ve made. My perennial jumpiness is a family joke – and even I know it’s funny – but I pray my daughters never have the same reasons I do for hating sudden loud noises, or finding people behind me when I haven’t heard them approaching.’
Concluding her personal essay, the author wrote: ‘The last thing I want to say is this. I haven’t written this essay in the hope that anybody will get out a violin for me, not even a teeny-weeny one. I’m extraordinarily fortunate; I’m a survivor, certainly not a victim. I’ve only mentioned my past because, like every other human being on this planet, I have a complex backstory, which shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions. I never forget that inner complexity when I’m creating a fictional character and I certainly never forget it when it comes to trans people.
‘All I’m asking – all I want – is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse.’
The Sun’s front page
Following J.K. Rowling’s claims that she had personal experience of domestic abuse, British tabloid, The Sun, profiled her ex-husband, Jorge Arantes, on the newspaper’s Friday front page.
The headline read: ‘I slapped JK and I’m not sorry’.
During his interview with the newspaper, Jorge Arantes states: ‘Yes. It is true I slapped her. But I didn’t abuse her.’
He was asked to address her claims that he had been violent to which he replied: ‘If she says that, that’s up to her. It’s not true I hit her.’
Following backlash, The Sun spoke out, stating that it was not its intention to ‘enable or glorify’ domestic abuse.
Reaction to The Sun’s front page
The Sun has been criticised for its harmful front page, with leading trans activists standing behind J.K. Rowling. In fact, according to Pink News, ‘over 60 trans and non binary writers, charity bosses, academics, lawyers and community leaders have signed an open letter condemning The Sun for its “dangerous, cruel, malicious and misogynistic” treatment of JK Rowling.’
‘We write to you in shock and dismay at the abhorrent front page of The Sun newspaper in which you gave voice to JK Rowling’s abuser,’ the open letter reads. ‘Misogyny is a pervasive force and one that treats survivors and victims of sexual and domestic violence as bylines to their abusers story.
‘We stand alongside JK Rowling in this cruel and malicious reporting, which sends a dangerous message to all survivors that their stories are only valid when corroborated by their abusers.
‘It sends a message to all survivors of domestic and sexual violence that they will not be believed, and it is dangerous.’
We will continue to update this story.
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