A cisgender man dresses as a woman in order to commit violent acts of murder. Does that sound transphobic? A homosexual woman dresses as a man in order to commit violent acts of murder. Does that sound homophobic? The first one is actually the premise of J.K. Rowling’s new novel ‘Troubled Blood,’ Rowling’s fifth installment of the Cormoran Strike series. Both its author and her new novel have been facing accusations of transphobia. Now if that is indeed true then the other statements would be as well: they share the same idea. However, the reality is, they aren’t.
Rowling’s controversy with trans people began several tweets ago.
It started when Rowling tweeted “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” in response to the Devex article “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.”
The tweet was immediately met with backlash from twitter users accusing her of being transphobic as the post allegedly excluded trans-women and non-binary people as menstruators. Therefore, as the law of the social media jungle goes, Rowling began to be labeled as transphobic.
“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. 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.”
Rowling goes on to deny the accusations against her claiming that she “‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real.” She concludes the twitter thread by solidifying her stance of respecting the rights of transgender people while affirming her claim that her initial tweet was not hateful.
Responses from fans ranged from insinuating that Rowling is hateful of transgender people to accusing her of being a TERF, which is known as a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. The issue here is that there is neither concrete evidence nor example of where Rowling is either shown to explicitly or implicitly say that transgender people are to be excluded from certain rights and/or privileges, nor that she wishes ill will upon them. Twitter users have materialized a controversy from nothing, as usual.
The majority of the backlash points towards her first quote where she’s accused of being trans-exclusionary and therefore a bigot, transphobic, a TERF. Rowling is not being a bigot because she did not include transgender and non-binary people. When thinking about “people who menstruate,” it’s not uncommon for some to immediately think of women instead of pondering whether or not to include transgender and non-binary people.
Menstruation is a monthly cycle of a series of changes experienced primarily by women. Rowling confirming what she inherently knows does not deny the identity of transgender people nor convey any hate towards them. The issue is relevant to the topic of biological sex not of gender identity. Therefore it is not offensive nor does it show signs of bigotry and phobia if one associates menstruation with women.
Rowling’s “life has been shaped by being female.” She has herself experienced menstruation so when asking herself ‘who are people that menstruate,’ naturally her answer would gravitate towards women. And for that reason alone Twitter users decided to label her as transphobic and cancel her.
Amidst the controversy is Rowling’s new book “Troubled Blood,” a popular discussion topic that divides people into those who believe that it is a transphobia manifesto and those who do not. Those who do use the reasoning that the book conveys a moral that advocates transphobia through one of the novel characters, serial killer Dennis Creed. Creed is a cisgender serial killer whose motif involves donning feminine clothing and wigs in order to get closer to his victims. In fact, here is the most compelling detail: Creed is never described or portrayed as transgender nor a transvestite.
Rowling actually described Creed as “a man who had ‘camouflaged himself behind an apparently fey and gentle facade,’” according to Allison Ford in a Guardian article. This essentially confirms that the novel lacks any explicit nor implicit details or relevance pertaining to transgender people.
Ford concludes her thoughts on Rowling’s book describing it as, at most, “an utterly tone-deaf decision to include an evil man who cross-dresses after months of pain among trans people and their allies.”
The book doesn’t feature a transvestite nor a transgender serial killer. The killer Dennis Creed is not even portrayed as the main antagonist. The moral and theme does not seem to be “never trust a man in a dress” as the Telegraph claimed it to be. Instead, the true themes of the book primarily focus on the changes feminism has gone through and exploring how stereotypes surrounding femininity were approached. The book essentially has little to no transphobic messages that would be conveyed to a reader.
Ultimately, the real crux of this entire debacle is that people are using a platform as poorly regulated as Twitter voicing such fragmented thoughts used as real arguments. Social media in general is a poor choice of platform when deciding where to discuss complex matters such as the struggles of trans people. When opinions clash concerning the approach towards inclusion of trans people in biological terminology lead to phrases like “shut the fuck up”, “fuck off a cliff” or even “pasty bologna looking ass bitch” being thrown around, then any credibility or chance in a civil discussion is lost.
Numerous tweets, retweets, and so-called book reviews put Rowling’s head underneath a guillotine. When evaluating these statements, especially when they claim something that is ‘true,’ one must make it a point to find if they include any evidence, any sign that the person who said this has sources, proof of credibility, are their arguments (if they even have any) even relevant to the current issue.
The majority of Tweets repeat the same message or wording similar to the tweet before them: ‘J.K. Rowling hates trans people.’ No citing of her original Tweets and following it up on identifying where the transphobia is supposedly located, no substantial argument given (as expected of Twitter). This pattern repeats itself in a majority of the reviews on Goodreads for Rowling’s book, many of whom stated that they refuse to read a book on the basis that it is allegedly transphobic or is written by a transphobe yet once again giving no proof of the validity of their claims.
Rowling’s reputation has gone through a grueling meat grinder because of a series of tweets that, despite showing a lack of transphobia the people of Twitter apparently interpreted as a message of bigotry against trans people and therefore Rowling was deemed a bigot. Free speech exercised through the current media is in a state where a seemingly innocent statement can be seen as offensive by a small minority which then begins a rapid process of mindless bandwagoning against the original poster.
The struggles for free speech went from protesting draconian obscenity laws during the 1950’s where Lenny Bruce was arrested for including the topic of pregnancy in his comedy performances to people, especially celebrities, being unable to say anything on any kind of platform without putting their words through ten different filters. It is a disservice to free speech: how are you supposed to improve your thoughts if you can’t be challenged critically when people are shot down or silenced with “you can’t say that” instead of having a meaningful discussion?