I Used to Thank JK Rowling for My Survival. Her Transphobia Has Put Me in Danger.

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Commentary LGBTQ

I Used to Thank JK Rowling for My Survival. Her Transphobia Has Put Me in Danger.

Serena Daniari

The stakes are simply too high for Rowling’s language to be considered acceptable. Denying the existence of trans people, as she has repeatedly done, is not only dangerous but is also futile.

During my turbulent adolescent years, I had very few escapes from the torment and bullying I experienced as a closeted transgender woman. The vitriol directed at me from my peers was relentless. In every classroom and hallway, kids would gleefully point out my differences, and in the cruelest of ways: I was skinny, effeminate, awkward.

I was no stranger to being called a “faggot” and a “sissy.” After all, with my delicate mannerisms and androgynous attire, I certainly didn’t fit the mold of the typical boy, the gender I had been assigned at birth. Whenever I was teased, I longed for a safe place, one where I could be my truest self, even if it was only in my mind. Around that time I began to read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, so widely popular and beloved that it necessitates no introduction.

I immersed myself in Rowling’s compelling prose about sorcery and magic. The characters she created both inspired and perplexed me, from Hermione’s feminine strength to Harry’s endless fortitude to Dobby’s endearing strangeness. Rowling conceived a world where individuality was celebrated—a world where even the most arduous of obstacles, like destroying the horcruxes of Lord Voldemort, were possible.

As I matured, I began to slowly but surely embrace my womanhood openly. My gender transition was challenging, as one could imagine. I was met with opposition from various forces—including doctors, former employers, and college classmates—and faced harassment, rejection, and even violence. Nonetheless, I was steadfast in my belief that living authentically superseded any of the difficulties that being an out trans person presented. Some of my fortitude was intrinsic. Some of it was derived from my incredible support system of family and friends. And some of it was even inspired by the lessons and themes I internalized from Rowling’s epic coming-of-age saga.

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Perhaps the Harry Potter series’ profound impact on my journey to self-actualization explains why Rowling’s persistent commitment to espousing transphobic ideologies has been so painful and jarring for me.

On Saturday, while protests around the world denounced police brutality and systemic racism ensued, Rowling took a swing at the trans community. She posted a string of tweets criticizing a headline that referenced “people who menstruate” to her 14.5 million followers: “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people,” she tweeted. “Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” knowingly erasing the realities of trans women, who do not menstruate, and also excluding transmasculine and nonbinary individuals who do. Unfortunately, Rowling has an extensive history of sharing transphobic ideas.

After witnessing Rowling’s commitment to her anti-trans rhetoric and beliefs, there is no point in sugarcoating the unfortunate truth: The author I once admired so greatly and who propelled me through some of my darkest moments has finally lifted the invisibility cloak off of her transphobia. The author, who seems to have a sordid obsession with the trans community, doubled down on her revolting views in a blog post she published on Wednesday. In it, she perpetuates the damaging concept of biological essentialism by denying trans people the capacity to define our gender for ourselves. Rowling, seemingly hellbent on proving that trans people are not who we say we are, suggests that genitalia, chromosomes, and assigned sex at birth are the only attributes that can determine gender.

Trans people are here to stay and here to slay—no matter who tries to speak us out of existence.

This belief completely overlooks the truth about trans people: Our biological sex and gender identity are separate aspects of who we are. It also excludes the reality that biological sex is not binary. Instead, it operates as a bimodal biological distribution, just like gender identity operates as a bimodal sociological distribution. In other words, while most people identify as either male or female, there are trans and intersex folks who do not, but whose bodies and identities are just as valid as those who do.

As I feverishly responded to Rowling’s tweets, explaining the damage they were inflicting upon her trans fans and followers, I was swiftly met by a barrage of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) who believe that by validating trans womanhood, cisgender women are put at risk of violence and oppression.

It is important to note that there is, quite frankly, no evidence to support such an assertion.

In fact trans women are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators, and there is an epidemic of violence against trans people of color, particularly Black trans women, in this country. Nonetheless, Rowling’s TERF supporters flooded my mentions and direct messages with triggering, painful slurs that have been hurled at me by the most conservative of bigots. And yet, these were not Trump supporters. They were women claiming to be liberal feminists, calling me a “man,” “tranny,” and “freak,” and mocking my gender-affirming surgeries, equating me to a blow-up doll and failed plastic surgery experiment.

I was heartbroken and disillusioned. Rowling is the creator of an incredible fantasy world that once provided me with so much comfort and security when I needed it most. Now, she was enabling her rabid followers to denigrate my gender identity and denounce the validity of an identity I fought so hard for.

It is not lost on me that a woman with an imagination vivid enough to conjure up talking hats and outlandish mystical creatures seems incapable of suspending her rigid notions of gender in order to extend basic human decency and kindness to trans folks. Instead, Rowling, who is hideously out of touch, has relentlessly perpetuated the same rhetoric that contributes to the pervasive violence against the trans community.

In recent weeks, this violence has become even more apparent, with the beating of Iyanna Dior, a Black trans woman, in Minnesota, and the police killing of Tony McDade, a Black trans man, in Florida.

There is an undeniable state of emergency for trans folks, who face immense social, health, economic, and political barriers. The stakes are simply too high for Rowling’s language to be considered acceptable. Denying the existence of trans people, as she has repeatedly done, is not only dangerous but is also futile.

Trans people are here to stay and here to slay—no matter who tries to speak us out of existence.

Throughout her expansive career, one that is hopefully coming to a needed end, Rowling has written countless words. Unfortunately, it is her most recent words, dripping in prejudice and intolerance, that she will be remembered for.