It's not just her blatant transphobia on Twitter but in her fiction too.
December 20, 2019 11:13 AM   Subscribe

JK Rowling's Transphobia Wasn't Hard to Find, She Wrote a Book About It [Vice] “Fans and critics alike have been calling out Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling for years for her history of playing online footsie with noted transphobes. This week, she finally made explicit what a lot of those fans and critics have argued: She's an aggressive biological essentialist, and vocally supports known transphobes and their beliefs. It's the latest stage of the slow-burning, deepening estrangement between Harry Potter readers and a woman who has often been as ill-suited to the role of pop culture celebrity as she is eager to play it. But this latest turn in the conversation also underscores the degree to which Rowling has been successful in downplaying the peevish condescension and personal conservatism that she has flaunted in her writing outside the saga of the Boy Who Lived.”

“There's a viciousness in Rowling's descriptions and characterizations in the Galbraith books from time to time. But her descriptions of Pippa, the features and mannerisms she chooses to focus on and emphasize when writing from Strike's POV (generally one of our two reliable narrators in this world) are consistently objectifying and othering in ways that are very familiar from the ways transphobes describe and debate the validity of trans men and women's identities. Critic and VICE contributor Katelyn Burns wrote about this last year, using this particular sequence to contextualize some of Rowling's other statements and behavior on Twitter and to persuasively make the case that Rowling is transphobic in very familiar and common ways.”

Previously: J.K Rowling on queerbaiting, on cultural appropriation.
posted by Fizz (95 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
 
Christ what an asshole.
posted by Mayor West at 11:14 AM on December 20, 2019 [20 favorites]


We regret to inform you that Lord Voldemort is a TERF.
posted by Fizz at 11:23 AM on December 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


We regret to inform you that Lord Voldemort is a TERF.

That would be fine. He's the bad guy. We regret to inform you that Hermione is a TERF.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:25 AM on December 20, 2019 [78 favorites]


Yeah i think this needs to be dealt with because there are a large number of people for whom her work is deeply important who now should (and many are) reconciling those feelings with the overwhelming evidence she is just not a good person.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


The Hard Times nails it:

Pottermore Update Requires Picture of Genitals Before Confirming Gender

“Your born sex and body is absolutely the metric by which you should be judged as a person. You can’t just change some important part of your backstory years after the fact. That would be ridiculous.”
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2019 [47 favorites]


[Comment and a couple replies moved. Driveby chiding folks for having liked a thing isn't adding anything to the conversation, please don't do that.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2019 [17 favorites]


I was surprised by this, because I had mostly seen JK Rowling being fairly liberal on Twitter, but I don't really follow her -- I just see the stuff that gets reposted on Facebook and such.

I have read the Galbraith books, and I didn't really notice the transphobia as being particularly pronounced. That's probably partly my privilege and partly the fact that everyone's kind of weird and ugly in the Galbraith books, unless they are exceptionally beautiful and perfect.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:31 AM on December 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


See this enlightening twitter thread.
posted by aeshnid at 11:34 AM on December 20, 2019 [38 favorites]


I was surprised by this, because I had mostly seen JK Rowling being fairly liberal on Twitter, but I don't really follow her -- I just see the stuff that gets reposted on Facebook and such.

She's in that group of people who are just liberal enough that they think they arrived at all of their prejudices based on rigorous analysis.
posted by Etrigan at 11:35 AM on December 20, 2019 [81 favorites]




I find it fascinating how someone can create a work of art that sets out a profound and ethical worldview but can’t seem to understand it consciously, or at least to live it out. There is a real magic (pun intended) in that—how the potential of a creation can transcend the reality of the creator. I think about this with Woody Allen and Crimes and Misdemeanors too.
posted by sallybrown at 11:37 AM on December 20, 2019 [11 favorites]


Hermione might be, at least as a self-insert character for JKR, but Emma Watson supports trans rights, so.

Part of the complicated legacy of Harry Potter is that the people involved with it other than the actual creator are almost universally wonderful.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:39 AM on December 20, 2019 [35 favorites]


This is something that I feel like UK mefites would be really qualified to speak to, because I think transphobic social networks in the UK are a bit different from those in the US - not worse, just different, but different in a way that I find it hard to totally understand.

It feels like what happened was through the 2010s there was a consolidation of middle class white professional women who were socially liberal in an unconsidered way but very organized around transphobia. (And it feels like Mumsnet played kind of a role in this, too.) So for instance, the UK Guardian has a recent history of publishing these disgusting anti-trans articles - if a trans woman in the UK committed a crime, you could bet it would be splashed on the front page of the site, and the sheer number of "but it's my OPINION that trans women are really men and I REALLY believe it" articles...these rarely made it over to the US Guardian, and I remember hearing that the US Guardian staff objected about them to management.

My sense has been that transphobia in the UK is not nearly as tied to Christianity and homophobia as it is in the US - it's not that there aren't any affluent white socially liberal transphobes in the US, but it seems like a much more "respectable" position in the UK.

~~
I will still stand by my fanfic, though. I freely admit that I read a lot of the gloomier kind of Harry Potter fanfic right after the 2016 election and it did sort of help a bit.
posted by Frowner at 11:41 AM on December 20, 2019 [58 favorites]


One of the things about Harry Potter fandom is that death of the author was championed for so long (and by JKR herself) that I feel entirely comfortable enjoying fanart of Hermione saying 'Fuck Terfs' as 100% totally valid.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:43 AM on December 20, 2019 [16 favorites]


the UK Guardian has a recent history of publishing these disgusting anti-trans articles

Such a spate of these, and I'm still stumped as to why they were fine with doing it. Incredibly dismaying.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:44 AM on December 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


I find it fascinating how someone can create a work of art that sets out a profound and ethical worldview but can’t seem to understand it consciously, or at least to live it out.

Well, other than the anti-semitic banker caricatures and the implied gang rape of a villain and the appropriation of indigenous cultures and the problematic Asian representation and...

I deeply loved those books, and all three of my kids who are old enough have read them, and the fourth will likely read them too. But, to steal a line I've stolen before, "You can keep them, but keep them in context."
posted by Etrigan at 11:48 AM on December 20, 2019 [68 favorites]


There is a real magic (pun intended) in that—how the potential of a creation can transcend the reality of the creator.

Echoes of many Gen X sci-fi fans who as kids were bowled over by Ender's Game only for Card to later turn vicious shitheel.
posted by tclark at 11:54 AM on December 20, 2019 [91 favorites]


Well, other than the anti-semitic banker caricatures and the implied gang rape of a villain and the appropriation of indigenous cultures and the problematic Asian representation and...

And the hatred of fat people! Let's not forget that!

But there's another way in which the HP books sort of prefigure transphobia - they are obsessed with failed womanhood. The villainous women are all depicted as failing to "do" womanhood correctly - Umbridge is tacky, fat and cutesy-poo, sort of a middle class climber; Bellatrix is the crazy b*tch; Narcissa is beautiful and self-obsessed; Rita Skeeter is a gossip and a manipulator...and they're all either too good-looking in an evil way or else fat and trashy. Only dead Lily Evans does femininity truly well, and she's dead. Even Mrs. Weasley gets a lot of mockery in the text for being plump and fussy. And then of course the veela! And hags!

It's obvious from go that to Rowling there's a very narrow path to performing womanhood correctly and it's very important to equate Not Being Lily Evans with being actually evil and risible. People who want to police womenhood in that "not too beautiful but certainly not fat and plain, not too cute but not too haughty, not too dressed up but not too frumpy, not a hausfrau but not actually ambitious" way are practically transphobes already, TBH.

(Male villains are not shown as gender failures in the same way at all.)
posted by Frowner at 11:55 AM on December 20, 2019 [133 favorites]


I really didn't want to believe this. Couldn't square it with how those books helped me as a kid to be ok with my own identity. What the fuck is she doing.

Every generation gets its Orson Scott Card, it seems.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:57 AM on December 20, 2019 [59 favorites]


The villainous women are all depicted as failing to "do" womanhood correctly - Umbridge is tacky, fat and cutesy-poo, sort of a middle class climber; Bellatrix is the crazy b*tch; Narcissa is beautiful and self-obsessed; Rita Skeeter is a gossip and a manipulator...and they're all either too good-looking in an evil way or else fat and trashy. Only dead Lily Evans does femininity truly well, and she's dead. Even Mrs. Weasley gets a lot of mockery in the text for being plump and fussy. And then of course the veela! And hags!

J. K. is totally, totally not the only author who does this.
posted by Melismata at 11:58 AM on December 20, 2019 [7 favorites]


J. K. is totally, totally not the only author who does this.

No, of course she's not - but it is certainly in line with her transphobic views and perfectly illustrates the connection between gender conservatism, gendered hatred and transphobia. And there's a sadistic quality to Rowling's writing of "failed" female characters that perfectly matches the typical sadism of TERF rhetoric.
posted by Frowner at 12:00 PM on December 20, 2019 [28 favorites]


I realize lots of smart and thoughtful people love her work. I'm sure there's a lot to be said for it and could easily be convinced it's done far more good than harm in the world.

But, the couple of books I read seemed pretty reactionary and anti-humanist. I don't think it's entirely just 'cause I'm old and crotchety. Tolkien's far worse, and all of my peers love it. I adored C. S. Lewis as a kid, but the world view it presents is actually pretty awful in exactly the same way. The politics of fantasy fiction are very rarely good or subtle. (With some notable and welcome exceptions.)

If you write stories set in a world of good vs. evil that hinge upon people being born with the right blood and the use magic to reveal their essential, unchanging traits. . . I'm not going to be too surprised if you turn out to have some weird and ugly ideas about how the real world works.

I'm sure it's possible to invent the sorting hat and not be a gender essentialist. It's a shame that wasn't true in this case.
posted by eotvos at 12:01 PM on December 20, 2019 [50 favorites]


Interesting, Frowner. I have always read Umbridge as attempting to use traditional “soft” femininity as a shield for her behavior (which isn’t coded masculine or feminine, just evil). Sort of like the Ivanka Trump figure of the books.

To me, the HP universe struggles most by not having many “shades of gray” characters (other than Snape maybe?) or not understanding that some of the characters who are portrayed as all-good do some terrible things (Dumbledore). Which is why I usually enjoy the best HP fanfiction even more than the books themselves.
posted by sallybrown at 12:01 PM on December 20, 2019 [13 favorites]


there was a consolidation of middle class white professional women who were socially liberal in an unconsidered way but very organized around transphobia.

Yeah I know the use of the label TERF has grown beyond the original definition but my impression is that UK "feminist" transphobes are way more mainstream in their feminism than what we call "radical" second-wave feminists in the US.

In the US actual radical feminist transphobes have found success by working with conservative Christians to pass oppressive anti-trans laws (or block laws that recognize trans rights), not by working with mainstream feminist orgs.
posted by muddgirl at 12:02 PM on December 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


That's it everyone we're viewing all politics through Animorphs references now.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:03 PM on December 20, 2019 [32 favorites]


the UK Guardian has a recent history of publishing these disgusting anti-trans articles

Such a spate of these, and I'm still stumped as to why they were fine with doing it. Incredibly dismaying.


The print UK Guardian was always a deeply weird paper when I lived there. It was further left than any major newspaper I'd ever read before but at the same time deeply upper middle class luxury Land Rover in its interests and pretensions. It resulted in fantastically perverse writing like "How to have a sustainable in-ground pool in London", "Affordable eco-friendly luxury glamping trips abroad" and "The best SUV for the environment".

So it started out from that conflicted base. Once it added the online US version it's gradually become more and more of the usual click baiting content farm that everything on the internet eventually ends up as and is doubtless chasing market segmented optimized return all-the-niches saturation goals. Both sides, every side, a million sides....to get all the clicks, all the outrage, all the confirmation bias, all of everything.

They used to stand for the somewhat guilty successful middle-aged upper-middle class on-the-property-ladder conscience but now they stand for.....?
posted by srboisvert at 12:11 PM on December 20, 2019 [7 favorites]


This just made me really sad. There are definitely a lot of problems with the Harry Potter books but I liked them, they made me happy when I read them.

Yesterday I said to my only queer co-worker (gay cis man), who is a pretty good friend, "did you hear J.K. Rowling is a TERF?" and he said "I don't care, I don't want to talk about it, I don't care about J.K. Rowling" and I felt even more alone, like, the only other queer person in the place where I spend roughly half of my waking hours isn't even willing to engage on this thing that hurts me.

So much of my Twitter timeline is people responding to this, and it's all very kind and supportive of trans people, but I don't WANT cis people to have to be supportive of me. It's so tricky because I do appreciate it, I like knowing they're willing to speak up on my behalf on something like this, but also it just keeps reminding me that I am seen as different and weird and a lot of people don't like me or want me to exist, a lot of people actually don't believe that I DO exist*, and I'm just sad and angry and even though I have plenty of cis family and friends and people who love me this whole thing makes me feel very alone.

*including my mom lol, Merry Christmas to me
posted by an octopus IRL at 12:20 PM on December 20, 2019 [54 favorites]


[One comment removed. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, but to be real clear about this: support for transphobia isn't okay on MetaFilter.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:27 PM on December 20, 2019 [135 favorites]


I may have said this before here, or possibly elsewhere, but there’s also a weird dynamic in the UK where men of a certain age & power have internalised the idea that they should be 'listening to the things that women tell them' from feminism. Which would generally be a good thing, all else being equal. Unfortunately, the women they are listening to all appear to be of the strongly TERFy variety, or else the TERFy types got to them first. I suspect this is what happened to Graham Linehan for instance - he was radicalised by the TERFs before anyone else had a chance to counter them & now he’s in so deep his own self-image is completely wrapped up in the TERF mindset & it’s almost impossible to de-radicalise him.

The younger women I know want absolutely nothing to do with this attitude, but I don’t know how universal that is.
posted by pharm at 12:28 PM on December 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


I saw this yesterday and I'm hurt, sad and disappointed but I also feel somewhat freer. J.K. Rowling finally lifting up her mask is like giving me permission to finally let go of the books and just enjoy my memories of the fandom for what it was instead of having to worry about the canon and her incessant mutterings and additions to it.

I wish the mods hadn't deleted the comment from the user declaring himself transphobic. Without that evidence he's free to lurk around without anyone knowing who he is.
posted by Memo at 12:32 PM on December 20, 2019 [34 favorites]


narcissa will do anything to protect draco...and winds up doing the same for harry in deathly hallows
posted by brujita at 12:34 PM on December 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


Didn't hear this before today. Fuck that. I am sick of people spouting off on stuff they are completely wrong on.
posted by agregoli at 12:41 PM on December 20, 2019


I'm sure it's possible to invent the sorting hat and not be a gender essentialist. It's a shame that wasn't true in this case.

Isn't it implied that the Sorting Hat could sometimes get it wrong?

Seems like Rowling ought to be able to have some compassion/understanding for people mistakenly Assigned Hufflepuff At Hat.
posted by straight at 12:41 PM on December 20, 2019 [12 favorites]


She's in that group of people who are just liberal enough that they think they arrived at all of their prejudices based on rigorous analysis.

There is no degree of liberal or left-ishness that prevents people from having blind spots. They're value systems, not one weird trick for transcending human nature.

That doesn't make Rowling's views OK. But it might make it a better idea to orient discussion less around the case for Rowling's apparently indelible and generally corrupt nature and more around what specifically she is wrong about and how. If for no other reason than sidestepping the obstacle of her status as a valued figure in many lives rather than ramming headfirst into it until either she crumples or critics do.
posted by wildblueyonder at 12:41 PM on December 20, 2019 [20 favorites]


Oh, hell, I never imagined that I was going to regret basing my user name on J.K. Rowling, of all people. At least, as far as I know, there's nothing objectionable about J.A. Seazer. Please don't be a Japanese ultranationalist please don't be a Japanese ultranationalist
posted by J.K. Seazer at 12:42 PM on December 20, 2019 [11 favorites]


As a fan of the books and a trans girl myself, this news makes me sad.
posted by starscream at 12:43 PM on December 20, 2019 [13 favorites]


I wish the mods hadn't deleted the comment from the user declaring himself transphobic. Without that evidence he's free to lurk around without anyone knowing who he is.

I get this and other people are very welcome to feel differently because I flagged it because 1) reading it sucked, I did not enjoy that and 2) I don't really want this thread to be about that guy's shitty comment; it's very easy for that to turn into a back-and-forth between transphobic cis assholes and good cis allies (and trans people! But there are fewer of us so it makes it more likely that our voices will be drowned out). It's so easy to end up making the transphobic asshole the center of the conversation.
posted by an octopus IRL at 12:45 PM on December 20, 2019 [71 favorites]


I may have said this before here, or possibly elsewhere, but there’s also a weird dynamic in the UK where men of a certain age & power have internalised the idea that they should be 'listening to the things that women tell them' from feminism. Which would generally be a good thing, all else being equal. Unfortunately, the women they are listening to all appear to be of the strongly TERFy variety, or else the TERFy types got to them first.

There's definitely a weird dynamic to this where "listening to women" means listening to transphobic women and not listening to women (trans and cis) who say "You're not standing up for me by being transphobic" or "gender policing hurts a LOT of women, both cis and trans." It reminds me, sort of, of how there's a very long history (didn't Edward Said write about this?) of colonialism and imperialism and, say, bombing the Middle East, being justified/rationalized by this idea of "we, the Good Men, need to protect the Innocent Women from the Bad Men." And there are a lot of men who are very happy with the idea of slotting trans women into the villain role here. It confirms their pre-existing transphobia! It lets them cast themselves as Good Men, Defenders of Women! And it lets them avoid having to think about their own role in perpetuating sexism in the world.

I guess it's much easier to say "I believe in LISTENING TO WOMEN" than to say "I believe in listening to ONLY THOSE WOMEN who are willing to cast me in the role of a Valiant White Knight, Defender of Ladies."
posted by Jeanne at 1:02 PM on December 20, 2019 [22 favorites]


This doesn't change the books or what is written in them or what you take from them one bit. I just want to put that out there to the people who feel that what they read or got from the books is tarnished or an illusion - it isn't. What artists create isn't a reflection of their soul. Beauty isn't begotten by the beautiful. History of art is inundated with horrible persons creating beautiful, evocative and meaningful works. That goes for music, painting, literature, you name it.
posted by cx at 1:06 PM on December 20, 2019 [14 favorites]


I am not at all surprised. I think that the author of this piece is accurate when they describe Rowling's politics as "vague and under-considered liberalism" - it's the kind of liberalism one arrives at by not looking too closely at one's self and one's prejudices.

Even the Potter books, which aren't as mean as the Galbraith books, are shockingly under-considered in some respects. They can be deeply regressive in ways that aren't demanded by the premise. My friends have gotten a lot of meaning out of the books that Rowling didn't put there intentionally, but it has never been a totally easy relationship.

I am so sorry for people who are hurt by this.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:10 PM on December 20, 2019 [9 favorites]


This doesn't change the books or what is written in them or what you take from them one bit.

I do still re-read Ender's Game every few years or so. But the experience has definitely been affected by OSC's shittiness. I'll probably re-read the Harry Potter books occasionally as well, and expect to have a different experience when I do that.
posted by tclark at 1:13 PM on December 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


I liked HP as a young adult. But when I gave the first Galbraith book a try I was really disappointed at the...conservative gender tropes there.
There wasn't any trans person in the first one as far as I recall. But there was the whole thing with the gay designer and the models. And how the hero gets his mojo back by having sex with a drunk model. And that was just really gross. But also the smaller things, like the typical ways in which men and women get slotted into their roles. She just struck me (a non-Brit) as a really unimaginative person where it comes to adult interactions, with her nice blinders on, comfortably hewing to the middle class world views of the 1990s.

All this to say I am not surprised at all now at what a small, toxic, transphobic person she is turning out to be. Just sad.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:14 PM on December 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


How mainstream British Feminism became Anti-Trans.

I find it odd how prevalent transphobia is amongst British feminism, compared to Northern American feminism. And the explanation in this article has never really seemed that satisfying. But I don't know anything better.
posted by grouse at 1:18 PM on December 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


The thing about nuance is that you don't get to have nuanced conversations without signaling extremely clearly to people that you can be trusted--not simply telling them that you can be trusted, but speaking in ways that clarify that you are aware of their concerns and the signals they pick up on. When fundamental premises of basic humanity are not agreed upon, folks are so busy tensing up and waiting for a hammer to fall that no one is willing to get into the shades of grey.

I was done with JKR the moment she set a movie in 1920s Harlem without any black people. I have gotten a lot of support from HP fandom over the years, but she has never treated HP fandom very well either when it doesn't stand to make her a profit. Drawing a distinction between the creator of a universe and the people who, unpaid, make works that expand on and play in that universe is something that's pretty central to my enjoyment of fandom, and I'm rather grateful to have that feeling to fall back on. I've felt a little sick and disgusted at HP merch for quite some time, but my enjoyment of the fanfiction universes and meta-essays I've grown up around is more or less untouched.
posted by sciatrix at 1:28 PM on December 20, 2019 [32 favorites]


•Is there a problem of misogynistic men hiding as trans-allies in order to be applauded as long as their violence is directed at "terfs"?

I think that misogynist men on the left are pretty visible and don't direct their violence just at TERFs. I don't think, based on being around activists a lot, that there are a bunch of men who enjoy committing violence (whether rhetorical or literal) against women and strategically seek out left spaces where they can direct it at TERFs. If anything, my experience of misogynist men on the left is that they put down or marginalize women in general and this tends to include trans women and trans women's concerns and expand to add genderqueer people, AFAB masculine people, etc.

I do think that anger at terrible women is often shaped by misogyny. There was misogynist abuse hurled at Margaret Thatcher, a person who deserved all the gender-neutral abuse that could be heaped on her. And it is difficult to deal with this because of course you feel kind of bad saying "could you not use that grotesquely sexualized image of Margaret Thatcher because it's sexist" and yet I don't really feel we get any forwarder by using misogynist imagery.
posted by Frowner at 1:29 PM on December 20, 2019 [44 favorites]


[Comment and some replies removed. If you've got a list of questions you'd want to discuss but don't think will go well, posting them anyway feels like a poor judgement. If those are questions verging into dicey Sure, Transphobia Is Bad, But...territory that feels tone deaf at best and really needs to not happen period.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:35 PM on December 20, 2019 [10 favorites]


I've read the books and seen the films, but I was already a bit too out of the target audience when the first books dropped so I don't have all the emotional attachments and such around the series... but as an adult who considers himself a person of the left, I find it telling that the narrative thrust of it all revolves around a very British boarding school, with all the class/economic/lack-of-intersectionality that entails. So Rowling being a TERF and other problematic aspects seem to me to be natural outgrowths of that.
posted by theartandsound at 1:39 PM on December 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


(My cat is pouncing on my mouse and trying to bite my fingers, which makes typing this difficult ...)

I found JKR's transphobia entirely unsurprising, as I tweeted yesterday in this thread (that's the last of ten linked tweets: follow the parents back).

TLDR: JKR uncritically wrote a paen to the English boarding school novel, which is intensely problematic because of the values that school system was designed to indoctrinate its victims with: imperialism, snobbery, authoritarianism, class hierarchy. LGBT people in general and trans-* in particular implicitly threaten this sort of social authoritarianism by undermining and blurring the us-vs-them boundaries it depends on.
posted by cstross at 1:45 PM on December 20, 2019 [64 favorites]


In the US actual radical feminist transphobes have found success by working with conservative Christians to pass oppressive anti-trans laws (or block laws that recognize trans rights), not by working with mainstream feminist orgs.

In the UK they do both! And they'll work with fundamentalists of any religion if it helps their pet cause, which is transmisogyny.
posted by Dysk at 1:47 PM on December 20, 2019 [12 favorites]


As someone who has walked the twisty road the separates the fiction of HP Lovecraft (and the genres he inspired) from the man’s abhorrent racial beliefs, I assure you you can do the same with Harry Potter and the views of Rowling. It does require a willingness to engage with the problematic and damaging parts of the text.

That said, fuck TERFs and fuck Rowling. There are spaces in hell reserved for them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:47 PM on December 20, 2019 [20 favorites]


Also perhaps worth noting that mainstream feminists in the UK broadly are radical feminists. It's not radical as in 'way out there' it's a term of art:

Radical feminists locate the root cause of women's oppression in patriarchal gender relations, as opposed to legal systems (as in liberal feminism) or class conflict (as in anarchist feminism, socialist feminism, and Marxist feminism). wiki
posted by Dysk at 1:50 PM on December 20, 2019 [18 favorites]


As a parent, I am just overwhelmed. Like, how dare she? My kids have devoured those books over and over, we marathon the movies on sick days, but just... Why would she drop this shit into the lap of every parent who actually wants to raise moral kids who care about people? How many fucking talks about "well, kids, just so you know, this thing you like is problematic because..." must we have? It's one thing, as an adult, to recognize that an artist you've enjoyed has turned out to be a terrible person, and to make choices about how you excise them from your mental life. It's much harder to explain to a kid, whose enjoyment is so much more innocent, and whose connection to the work is so much deeper. I am just so angry and sad about this.
posted by mittens at 1:51 PM on December 20, 2019 [10 favorites]


I have no real idea how accurate this is, but I did notice this Vox piece: J.K. Rowling’s transphobia is a product of British culture, which does seem to delve into how UK feminism has developed some strong TERF tendencies over the last 15 years or so.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:53 PM on December 20, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm kinda surprised that people are so shocked about this. It's pretty old news in most (UK) trans circles? Like, she's been hinting at this her entire career. She has tweeted in support of twitter blocklists run by TERFs, she's pally with a bunch of TERFs, she keeps doing shit that brings her up in these conversations.

I guess it's good we don't have to argue about it with the HP fans who want to "well actually..." or "but to be fair..." about her dogwhistles now that she's hung out a neon sign?
posted by Dysk at 1:55 PM on December 20, 2019 [23 favorites]


I'm sincerely sorry for all the people hurt by this, especially those who found much-needed support or validation in the Harry Potter stories over the years, and for whom this feels like a betrayal.

That said, I'm also in the unsurprised camp. I went through the first round of this twelve years ago when she was being lauded by many for saying that Dumbledore was gay...while revealing some very ugly and obviously unexamined homophobic beliefs in her subsequent discussions of it. Up until then, I had considered the regressive elements and ending of the books just the result of an author not quite skilled enough at planning a series to fully wrangle the moral ramifications of the world she had created and borrowing ignorant or hateful tropes from other works unthinkingly. Her interviews at that time and her later comments on social media made it clear, however, that she is comfortable not just living with but using her influence and platform to espouse beliefs that belittle and malign other people.

The whole Sorting Hat idea can be fun, but it's a mistake for us to think that our values at age eleven are the ones we're fated to keep for the rest of our lives. The world can change for the better in radical new ways if we're willing to query those values throughout our lives instead of adopting a label (whether it be Gryffindor or Liberal) and assuming that all our first thoughts and instinctive reactions represent the ideals of that label. I hope Rowling is capable of change and using her wealth and power to make true amends; if not, I hope we're all capable of accordingly changing the weight we give her opinions.
posted by northernish at 1:58 PM on December 20, 2019 [20 favorites]


NB. Personally I’m finding the “LOL, she wasn’t sacked they just didn’t renew her contract” stuff somewhat disingenuous. I imagine it felt a lot like being sacked & having been in a similar position it’s still a shitty thing when it happens to you. I’d love it if people would drop that particular gotcha from the discourse because it seems like something that could be turned on anyone in a similar employment position.

And they'll work with fundamentalists of any religion if it helps their pet cause, which is transmisogyny.

It seems to me that the end-state of TERFism is the rigid policing of cis-women’s gender expression. Hence trans-misogyny is in fact universal misogyny. (This is something that doesn’t seem to occur to many TERF-curious women, but they’re going to find out the hard way if the TERFs win.) This does explain why the committed TERFs are very happy to cozy up with US-dominionist Christian groups though - they’re peas from the same pod.
posted by pharm at 1:58 PM on December 20, 2019 [22 favorites]




(As Dysk says, to anyone watching the online discourse Rowling’s TERF-adjacent nature has been obvious for several years. Why she’s decided to let her TERF flag fly free over this particular case rather than anything that’s come before I’ve no idea.)
posted by pharm at 2:00 PM on December 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that the end-state of TERFism is the rigid policing of cis-women’s gender expression.

Eh, I think it's more the rigid policing of the gender expression if anyone who isn't a cis woman. It's the ultimate politics of victimhood, really: cis women are historically oppressed (what is intersectionality, none of that please, stop complicating things, ONLY cis women are oppressed here) and so everything cis women do is either inherently virtuous (if they're one of us, one of us, one of us) or inherently the replication of and product of misogyny (if they disagree with us, the TERFs, at all). Anything anyone who isn't a cis woman does is inherently bad, wrong, and oppressive (unless it's uncritically supporting TERFs, then it's acceptable, but only until you say anything that isn't a carefully attributed TERF quote lest you be seen to not be kowtowing completely).
posted by Dysk at 2:10 PM on December 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


"Listening to women" means starting with the presumption of truthfulness when people say "This happened. This person hurt me in this way." It doesn't mean uncritically accepting someone's fears and opinions, especially when they appear rooted in bigotry.

We have a long history of people weaponizing theoretical fears about women's safety and rhetoric about protecting women to hurt marginalized people.
posted by straight at 2:12 PM on December 20, 2019 [12 favorites]


I'm kinda surprised that people are so shocked about this. It's pretty old news in most (UK) trans circles? Like, she's been hinting at this her entire career. She has tweeted in support of twitter blocklists run by TERFs, she's pally with a bunch of TERFs, she keeps doing shit that brings her up in these conversations.

I posted about this on Facebook yesterday, and a number of (American) friends, trans AND cis, expressed surprise that I didn't know.
posted by brundlefly at 2:19 PM on December 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


I wish the mods hadn't deleted the comment from the user declaring himself transphobic. Without that evidence he's free to lurk around without anyone knowing who he is.

I'd hope they've banned them. Seems a bit unfair to expect us to share space with someone with an avowed hatred for us, whatever the context/thread.
posted by Dysk at 2:24 PM on December 20, 2019 [32 favorites]




ouranosaurus: Millenial sadly drinking in bar: Man, J.K. Rowling sucks…

Generation Xer angrily slamming down glass: LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT HOW MUCH I LOVED ENDER'S GAME WHEN I WAS 13, OKAY?!?
...
Twitter thread includes several other examples; Marion Zimmer Bradley and Lovecraft both get numerous mentions; several Golden & Silver Age scifi authors make an appearance; Bill Cosby and Laura Ingalls Wilder are also mentioned.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:02 PM on December 20, 2019 [27 favorites]


*weary sigh* Not this shit again.
posted by loquacious at 3:07 PM on December 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


I will admit, seeing Richard Morgan double down on "TERF is a slur" bioessentialism in response to all this was a bit of a hit. (I know, there's precedent in his books)
Is it too much to hope that someone who writes about sleeving & mutability of identity *wouldn't* go this route?
posted by CrystalDave at 3:07 PM on December 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


There's this vein of very very liberal folk in the UK (and they are most definitely liberal, not left) who have sort of arrived at an entrenched position where they are "the Good Guys" so don't need to examine their opinions much.
When their opinions get attacked they double down into them.

It's sort of hard to describe who they are, but when you see them, well you can see the attitudes running through them. There are a lot of them in the media and entertainment, and they are often characterised by being very TERFY. Very keen on feminism, so long as it's a feminism which includes white women, but does explicitly excludes trans women, women of colour, sex workers, or anyone who isn't well... them.

So, for example some of the rising stars of the Labour party, or the more progressive media, who are of course on the sides of the angels because they're feminists! So so feminist! and yet are campaigning for the Nordic Model. Or pushing anti trans laws or being proud about abusing black MPs. It's this odd position because they're so close, but also just not willing to challenge their preconceptions.

Or as Etrigan put it better and more succintly:
"that group of people who are just liberal enough that they think they arrived at all of their prejudices based on rigorous analysis."
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:11 PM on December 20, 2019 [15 favorites]


I'm just sitting here watching one of the Millennials in my circles get sad over all of this. And Twitter being full of everyone's Hot Takes on this isn't helping her at all.

The first one hurts the most. There will be others. Oh, how there will be others.*

Honestly my favorite part of this is the assorted "okay why are we just sitting here dunking on Rowling, who are some awesome trans creators who don't have multiple corporate empires behind their stuff?" threads. Hopefully a lot of trans creators (including me!) pick up some new followers and customers from those.

let's see. Orson Scott Card. Reconciling Dave Sim turning into an MRA with how much I learnt about the art and craft of Comics from his work. Working under John K. Getting personally mocked on Doug TenNapel's forum for being trans. I think that's about it for my Feet Of Clay list? Never really gave a damn about Potter.
posted by egypturnash at 3:15 PM on December 20, 2019 [19 favorites]


I just finished re-reading the HP series for comfort. My dad is dying for reals now instead of super slowly. Plus, even though I don’t live there anymore, all the shit in the US (among other places) is super depressing and I wanted to take refuge in a series of books that I had enjoyed and in which good ultimately prevailed.

I had not remembered that nearly all of the characters that Harry loved or came to respect were either assholes or deeply damaged people. I had not noticed the first time around how many seemingly bad characters in the book had big hooked noses or the anti-Semitic vibe I got when JKR wrote about goblins and the bank.

There are many things I am not, including an intellectual. I often read escapist stuff because escapist stuff helps me stay alive. It was painful during the second read to notice shit I had not noticed the first time. I am really grateful for the earlier references to fanfic because I have never explored any sort before. This makes me want to explore HP fanfic. (Thanks, frowner.)

I still enjoyed the books; I’m not sad I read them again. But I am sad that their famous author, who is beyond wealthy and has so many resources and, worse, influence, is also a fucking bigoted asshole. Hermione has gotta be super pissed. I am, anyway, not that it helps.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:31 PM on December 20, 2019 [18 favorites]


I find it fascinating how someone can create a work of art that sets out a profound and ethical worldview but can’t seem to understand it consciously, or at least to live it out.

Sometimes this happens, but not for Rowling. The Potterverse is not an ethical world. There's racism all over, "meritocracy" politics, ableism (including the idea that ugly people are evil people), classism, child endangerment, arbitrary laws and biased enforcement, and a profound disconnect between its stated values ("It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are") and its actual events (Snape's been on the side of light for 18+ years but is considered a villain when he dies), and everyone either marries their high school sweetheart and stays with them forever, or doesn't marry. And that's before we get to homophobia and transphobia that are harder to directly prove.

Part of the reason Harry Potter inspired so much fanfic is that there are so many holes in it, both in the plot and the worldbuilding. It's difficult to make it a plausible story about real people with real-world motivations. Analytical readers know that Rowling's got some whopping biases somewhere because she seems to think that her "bad guy" characters are motivated by "I'm an evil person so I will do evil things because that's what evil people do." The only thing that makes the series work is the unreliable-narrator protagonist, who starts as a clueless 11-year-old and spends the next 7 years being fed propaganda and lies by people with an agenda.

I don't know if I could've spotted transphobia from the HP books, because "total lack of any trans characters whatsoever" doesn't always mean "raging anti-trans beliefs." But I could and did spot "believes that all marriages should be with your One True Love--of the opposite sex--which you will meet young in life and never stray from." The transphobia didn't surprise me because it's often attached to "50s sitcoms had the best version of marriages."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:34 PM on December 20, 2019 [33 favorites]


I can't believe that people want to turn this shitshow into another Millenials vs. The Olds fight.
posted by thelonius at 3:45 PM on December 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


Bella Donna, I found great fanfic recommendations in past Asks and FPPs here even just searching for “fanfiction” (Harry Potter must be one of the top fandoms for it.) Although I really disliked one of the more famous ones (Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality).
posted by sallybrown at 3:47 PM on December 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you're looking for HP fanfiction try the TV Tropes fanfic recommendation page. Not everything there is good but it's a good filter if you want to try reading "well-known" fanfiction.

(and yes, hpmor is really bad)
posted by Memo at 3:51 PM on December 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


Oh ffs this is a bummer. I was a grown-ass adult when HP started, but I read them and enjoyed them, and they allowed me to bond with younger family members in a way most of their other interests didn't (I still don't entirely get Pokemon). I applauded JKR for giving away so much of her fortune that she de-billionaired herself. But this terfy shit is so willfully ignorant and cruel. It's disappointing.

Hey J.K. Seazer, welcome to the problematic celebrity-related username club, there's punch by the fridge!
posted by lovecrafty at 4:02 PM on December 20, 2019 [23 favorites]


There are so many good fan-created HP works out there. I highly recommend the In The Garden series by fluorescentgrey, which is set of rather melancholy stories about wizarding musicians. Their other stuff is great too, but a lot of is is melancholy at best and Everyone Dies at worst. Her Source Codes series is really intense - I mean, it's long enough that it took me a couple of evenings to finish and I was all agog to find out what happened - and it has a comparatively happy ending, plus a lot of anti-colonialist stuff expanding and critiquing the racist and meh implications of Rowling's world.

I will not clutter up the discussion with more recs (except for Little Red Courgette which is a bubbly, silly post-Voldemort story that makes me feel better every time I read it) but anyone who would like left-leaning HP fic recs (mainly with romantic plots or subplots, I warn you) is free to memail me.
posted by Frowner at 4:05 PM on December 20, 2019 [17 favorites]


I only read two of the HP books; I think I was the wrong age and it just didn't capture me. But they were really important to many of the people around me, so this is disappointing to have confirmed. (I had picked up on early signs of this a couple of years ago, probably from comments here.)

I read the first Galbraith book, but like someone said above, there was a mean-spiritedness in there that turned me off.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:16 PM on December 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


We fans can continue to play in the sandbox she built without giving her another dime.
posted by LindsayIrene at 4:55 PM on December 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


an aggressive biological essentialist

Could we not use this phrase? I mean it's what these people want to be identified as (which is like a mulligan they haven't remotely earned) and it keeps me from feeling like I have to give a TED talk about 5-alpha Reductase on short notice.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:36 PM on December 20, 2019 [22 favorites]


Yes, "trans-phobe" works fine.
posted by agregoli at 5:47 PM on December 20, 2019 [8 favorites]


And this is the avenue via which I learned for absolute certain that a beloved cousin of mine is a TERF. Sigh. She's deeply involved with British feminism despite not being British, but I'm not sure if that's the chicken or the egg. I was actually about to post an Ask about "how do I handle this?," came to the front page and saw this post.
posted by rednikki at 6:49 PM on December 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


Well... I never thought the books were all that. The worldbuilding is great and memorable, obviously. I like Hermione and Luna representing smart and weird girls. The overall plot hits everyone's buttons a la Hero's Journey and whatever. But lord knows they aren't the best written ever and I've been a mild/casual fan at best. And seriously, JKR has been getting damn weird over the last few years, what with the uh, wizard poop thing and all.

I'm sorry that yet another fandom ethical dilemma has happened again, though.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:57 PM on December 20, 2019


So much of my Twitter timeline is people responding to this, and it's all very kind and supportive of trans people, but I don't WANT cis people to have to be supportive of me. It's so tricky because I do appreciate it, I like knowing they're willing to speak up on my behalf on something like this, but also it just keeps reminding me that I am seen as different and weird and a lot of people don't like me or want me to exist, a lot of people actually don't believe that I DO exist*, and I'm just sad and angry and even though I have plenty of cis family and friends and people who love me this whole thing makes me feel very alone.

Right there with you. So I, uh, actually came out as trans this week, publicly on social media, at work, etc (and I guess now on metafilter too, hey!). And I got universal love and support, and of course I am very happy about that but ... it's weird to have literally hundreds of people (I've moved around a lot and had a lot of jobs, and I'm an extrovert) express opinions about one's gender identity as a politicized thing, even when those opinions are positive. This is such an intensely personal thing, and it's just very jarring to have it be something that would even be up for debate at all.

(Which I think is why it's weird to have so many people tell me how brave I am. It feels like they're seeing my transition and coming-out as a political act, and while I guess it is in some ways, that's not at all why I'm doing it.)

And then to have this explode the same week, and sort of feel like I had to have A Trans Opinion about it ... oof. What is there to say besides "this really sucks"?
posted by lunasol at 7:18 PM on December 20, 2019 [63 favorites]


We regret to inform you that Lord Voldemort is a TERF.

Voldemort could not be a TERF because freedom of gender expression is obviously Satanic

Naturally, the villain class of Harry Potter generally seem much more queer than the heroes. Speaking of the concept of "assigned," Dumbledore is officially declared gay without seeming queer

Part of the complicated legacy of Harry Potter is that the people involved with it other than the actual creator are almost universally wonderful.

Such as Rowling's most favorite actor, Johnny Depp
posted by knoyers at 8:01 PM on December 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


Could we not use this phrase? I mean it's what these people want to be identified as

"Essentialist" has been a dirty word in UK trans circles longer than TERF has. And much like TERF, sometimes it's useful to categorise yer transphobes. It's typically not what the bigots in question want to be called either - they're all over bullshit like "gender critical" or even more laughably, not wanting their discrimination labeled at all, as it's obviously just common sense or objective truth.
posted by Dysk at 10:27 PM on December 20, 2019 [9 favorites]



There's definitely a weird dynamic to this where "listening to women" means listening to transphobic women and not listening to women (trans and cis) who say "You're not standing up for me by being transphobic" or "gender policing hurts a LOT of women, both cis and trans."


Speaking of which, Ricky Gervais had to open his big dumb mouth about this.
posted by LindsayIrene at 10:20 AM on December 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


That this kulturkamp is coming to a head under Johnson's Tories is fucking terrifying.
posted by Dysk at 10:36 AM on December 21, 2019 [10 favorites]


The first clue I had that Rowling was scarily conservative was back in Book 4, when Hermione gets mocked for wanting to end literal slavery. It only got worse from there. I finally stopped calling myself a fan at Book 6 for a number of reasons, e.g. it turned out Voldemort was literally BORN EVIL. He never had a chance because he was conceived the wrong way. When, in Book 2, Dumbledore said, "It's our choices that show who we truly are," he meant that our choices reveal our pre-determined inborn moral quality, not that we are free to define our moral worth through our free choices. Imagine! It was there all along.

And then of course Book 7 came along and Harry got himself a happy slave who went to war in his name and then brought him a sandwich, and *that wasn't even the worst thing*. Hagrid's brother turns out to be a disaster, because he's a full blooded giant. Molly Weasley - the woman who couldn't get rid of a Boggart - defeats Voldemort's right hand woman because motherhood wins all. Voldemort kills himself via a technicality wrapped in irrelevance inside sophistry, saving Harry the need to ever take an actual stand against ANYTHING.

It was there all along. I was just in denial about how bad it was.
posted by MiraK at 1:57 PM on December 21, 2019 [23 favorites]


The first clue I had that Rowling was scarily conservative was back in Book 4, when Hermione gets mocked for wanting to end literal slavery.

I remember being frustrated by how strident and obnoxious Hermione’s portrayal was during this crusade. She wasn’t just mocked, she was shown as annoying. I remember a friend said she thought it was fine because teenagers really can be like that when they have a cause but it really did show a lot about Rowling.
posted by lunasol at 5:01 PM on December 21, 2019 [19 favorites]


And then Harry literally becomes a cop
posted by um at 8:30 PM on December 21, 2019 [15 favorites]


I remember being frustrated by how strident and obnoxious Hermione’s portrayal was during this crusade

And I remember wondering why other characters said she was strident and obnoxious when she totally wasn't! Arguably the "worst" thing she did was try to trick the Hogwarts house elves into taking clothing and becoming free. Okay so that's a bit shady and paternalistic of her. But she's also a 14 yr old engaged in an extremely lonely battle. Imagine being THE ONLY PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE who notices the existence of slavery. (Dobby is an unperson and even he never aspires to full personhood let alone gain any class consciousness.) Christ, what a dumpster fire that whole plotline was!
posted by MiraK at 10:20 PM on December 21, 2019 [18 favorites]


And then Harry literally becomes a cop

Adding that epilogue that staples these characters into dull, cardboard futures is one of the worst literary miscalculations since Mark Twain’s ending for Huck Finn. But I guess it prefigured the fact that Rowling has never been able to let the characters well enough alone even after ending the series.
posted by sallybrown at 7:46 AM on December 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


I remember being frustrated by how strident and obnoxious Hermione’s portrayal was during this crusade. She wasn’t just mocked, she was shown as annoying. I remember a friend said she thought it was fine because teenagers really can be like that when they have a cause but it really did show a lot about Rowling.

Teenagers on a mission can be annoying, especially if they don't fully understand the context but it was a bizarre miscalculation to use actual, literal slavery (something that exists in the readers world as well!) as the thing that this "silly girl just didn't understand".
posted by atrazine at 5:16 AM on December 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


I evolved a very unpleasant theory about house elves given that we learned that if you curse someone hard enough it can carry across generations and based on how well the post-traumatic stress we see from people who were fighting an Imperious curse matches the twitchy behavior we see as inherent in house elves. Also if you need the modifier "house" then there should be some other kind of elf, but we never see any sign of them, and the ubiquity of house elves seems to correspond with the timer period after laws passed against coercing Muggles...

Then I realize I have put far more thought into why that sort of chattel slavery would exist in this world than Rowling did and have to walk away.

We're supposed to feel good about Ron realizing that house elves should not be left to die as a sign the whole system is ok as long as the masters are kind enough...
posted by Karmakaze at 8:11 AM on December 24, 2019 [10 favorites]


I have put far more thought into why that sort of chattel slavery would exist in this world than Rowling did and have to walk away.

The quote from GRR Martin, which I swear I saw on the blue within the last week, about Aragorn's tax policy, always seems so relevant. I'd definitely not want to elevate him as an exemplar of doing exactly that, but huge credit points to every author that implies at least a vaguely materialist understanding of history.

I am so incredibly sick of especially fantasy, since that's the nonfiction I read most (probably not in some small part because of the influence of the Potter series on me, library stocks and so on), which doesn't bother to say anything on this.

So many authors have an understanding of a universal, transhistorical "human nature" which I find absolutely sickening, and it inevitably pervades their work.

Tante Weasley died in Azkaban's H block, and the Ministry of Magic erased the entire extended family's memories of it. That's my headcanon.
posted by Acid Communist at 8:42 AM on December 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


We're supposed to feel good about Ron realizing that house elves should not be left to die as a sign the whole system is ok as long as the masters are kind enough...

I mean that's middle class Anglo-American social consciousness in a nutshell.
posted by PMdixon at 8:46 AM on December 24, 2019 [10 favorites]


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