To contextualize the controversy sparked by J.K. Rowling and her recent tweets on trans issues, The Indian Express composed a brief article that addressed the author’s contentious history with the subject as well as the mix of criticism and support she has received after first tweeting support for Maya Forstater in December 2019. Unfamiliar with Rowling’s problematic past? Let’s take a look at the shortened timeline of events.
Round One: The First Tweet
In December 2019, Rowling received backlash for supporting Maya Forstater, an anti-trans researcher. Forstater lost her job after she tweeted that a person cannot change their biological sex, Variety wrote in an article.
Rowling then took to social media and tweeted, “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill.”
Forstater was terminated by the Center for Global Development, and a judge ruled her beliefs to be “absolutist.” The judge further justified her termination by describing her as someone who would refer to a person “by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment,” according to The Guardian.
Both Forstater and Rowling received criticism for these tweets, notably Rowling from the Human Rights Campaign, which is an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, and Casey McQuiston, who is the author of the queer romance novel “Red, White and Royal Blue.”
Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 19, 2019
Round Two: The Tweets Kept Coming
On June 6, 2020, Rowling tweeted her disapproval of the phrase “people who menstruate,” according to The Indian Express. The term has gained popularity to include trans men and nonbinary people in menstrual or gynecological health conversations.
An article published by Variety covered Rowling’s tweet and the aftermath, with people on Twitter calling her comments on the matter “anti-trans” and “transphobic.” Rowling’s critics argue that “transgender people, non-binary people and gender-nonconforming people can also menstruate.”
Nevertheless, Rowling persisted in focusing on biological sex and followed up with tweets that challenged her opponents’ views: “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.” She continued the thread with a tweet saying, “The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women — ie, to male violence — ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences— is a nonsense.
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.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
Round Three: The Most Recent Tweet
Most recently, about two years after her initial support of Forstater, Rowling once again has the attention of people who oppose her perspective. Her tweets on Dec. 12 came after The Times UK published an article about a policy in the making that will allow Scotland police to register rapes as being committed by women if the accused identifies as a woman, regardless of whether they have legally changed their gender. The Scottish Sun claims the SNP and Scottish Greens’ power-sharing pact commits to passing the laws by mid-2022.
Rowling tweeted, “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman,” which alludes to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984,” that centers around themes of totalitarianism and brainwashing. After this tweet, she inevitably became a bullseye for challengers to target, but she has also gained support from many who agree with her viewpoint.
The public seems to be either in favor of Rowling’s alleged outspoken candor or in opposition to suspected blasphemous discrimination. However, the debate over whether biological sex is relevant to those who self-identify is still up for discussion in the current social climate.
The Indian Express article concludes with a clear picture of where people stand. Critics argue that Rowling’s refusal to accept self-identification’s role in gender identity and her belief that womanhood is only biologically determined makes her transphobic. As for her supporters, they maintain that discrediting the importance of biological sex might endanger women and is not practical for legal or safety concerns.
War is Peace.
Freedom is Slavery.
Ignorance is Strength.
The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman.https://t.co/SyxFnnboM1
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 12, 2021
The Current Controversial Conversation
People use their own beliefs to determine who they feel is in the “right” or “wrong,” but the feud between Rowling and trans activists doesn’t need to have a so-called winner, and that’s okay.
The attention paid to Rowling’s tweets asks observers to take the time and look at both sides of an argument and come to conclusions after thorough critical thinking and research. Is it too much to hope that, as a society, people accept others’ viewpoints and respect their thoughts, or does it always have to be a battle full of threats and abuse?
Communication is the only viable way anything can progress. If everyone shut out the people they disagreed with and lived inside their bubbles, then society would become even more alienated, and that’s not what a civilization needs to flourish. If humans are willing to sit down and have conversations that can significantly affect an entire population, shouldn’t they take that leap of faith?
Whether the support is geared toward or away from Rowling — or any situation that sparks controversy in the first place — it’s a brave gesture to reach out and participate in respectful dialogue. Whenever there is a dispute, perhaps individuals can come to a resolution that works for both affected parties.