Sorting it Out – Cursing the Cancel Culture of J.K. Rowling

I’m not sure about you, but my social media feeds began the week thick with cancel culture attacks. Proverbial wands are flailing about and despite the Ministry of Magic decree to never utter the words, “Imperio!” and “Crucio!” are being shouted all willy-nilly as the offended take aim at J.K.Rowling. This isn’t the first time that the public has positioned Ms. Rowling as one of the fictional dementors she’s scribed; but to many her real life words overshadow the positive messages in the stories she’s penned to paper.

One doesn’t have to look far to know that Ms. Rowling has a wide-reaching vocal presence on social media. She has been quite active on Twitter for years. At times she comments on her work to illuminate better futures for children in orphanages around the world through Lumos, the foundation she established, and her efforts to combat sex trafficking of children. But for those who don’t know, in recent months the focus has been on her expressed views on transgender enculturation – with her primary focus on trans women.

What began as disappointment in Ms. Rowling “liking” anti-trans tweets had fans throwing bludgers and calling her out for being a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF), begat a Twitter row between Ms. Rowling and author Stephen King, and taking every action short of summoning the dark arts in their demands to cancel her and her new book. Cast members from her films have shared split views on her tweeted messages, with a number of actors publicly opposing her opinion and favoring the trans community.

J.K. Rowling | Stephen King

As the online toxicity and personal threats increased, Ms. Rowling decided to publicly share her position on sex and gender issues. 280 characters in a tweet weren’t enough so on June 10, 2020 she put her words into an essay she linked and tweeted as “TERF Wars.” In her essay Ms. Rowling outlined her five reasons for concerns about the current climate of trans activism. To summarize, she shared her reasons for such interest, personal efforts to carry out due diligence in educating herself about the issues, revealed a history of abuse she experienced at the hands of another, described her relationships over the years with trans persons she knows personally, and explained why she believes the way she does. Ms. Rowling also disclosed that she does believe that transitioning can be the answer for some who experience gender dysphoria but restated her overall stance. In my discernment of this entire matter I see Ms. Rowling as a person who while sadly unyielding in the public’s attempts at affecting her beliefs, as one who has made time to ask questions and understand her subject matter. She is a former teacher and ever an assiduous fabler, after all.

Within the 3,690 words of her June essay, she revealed that she was working on the mystery series and more than hinted that trans culture would play a part in the story line. Had some taken a minute to pour themselves a cup of coffee and actually read what she wrote, the news hitting the internet a few days ago would not have been such a surprise. Hey, some of you happily submerged yourselves in 4,224 pages of the Harry Potter series, what’s a few more words to discover the truth? And, yes, I use the word “truth.” When people found out I was transitioning that word was tossed about more than any other. “Live your authentic truth” isn’t just a trans thing, people – all should have that same right.

What I don’t see – and this may well make some of you hit that ‘unfriend’ button if you haven’t already – is a valid effort to ask questions and better understand her thinking. Instead there have been very public and decisive efforts from those who are quick to sit behind their keyboards or smart phones to rally others to join the book burning and all-out canceling of any projects Ms. Rowling has planned in the future,. Do I believe Ms. Rowling is dangerous? Yes, I do. I believe that some of her messages are and will continue to be hurtful to those seeking affirmation or reassurance that being trans is okay.  I would say the same no matter who spake the words.

If this reads like I’m defending J.K. Rowling, in a way I am. While I do not agree with her position on the threat of violence in restrooms or waiting to see if a child will grow out of wanting to transition, I do respect her right to believe as she does and express herself as she wishes.

I get that there are a lot of folks who are hurt by her words and her actions. I’ve read many posts on threads from trans people who had been long-time fans but have become disheartened by the news that Ms. Rowling does not support them in the way they believe they should be supported. I understand and respect their feelings. But I don’t personally feel that hurt. First, I have never been on the receiving end of face-to-face adversity for being trans. I grew up in a tiny rural environment where bigotry was and is even now running rampant and trans folks were nothing more than talk show entertainment fodder, yet the worst I ever got was the occasional “are you a girl or boy” question when I was many years younger. Anything beyond that was likely behind my back because it never made its way to my ears. And if it had, I would have shrugged off the negative, because that’s who I was and still am.

Words and actions affect each of us differently, that’s certain. Not everyone has the wherewithal to scroll past something that touches them deeply – even if it is painful to read. When another’s words hurt us we, if we are able and so inclined, have every right to stand up and make our feelings known. But it is also one’s right to share their thoughts in the first place – contradictory or difficult as they may be – if they aren’t blatantly or maliciously targeting or threatening. I’ve seen tweeted responses from several claiming “I have a right to tell her what I think.” Yes, you most certainly do…and I hope you will call her out if that is your wish. You do you. I honestly hope that in expressing your own authenticities you have the support you need should you find struggle. Remember though as you threaten her with the Avada Kedavra! curse or tweet the #ripjkrowling hashtag, that a claim to speak freely holds true for both sides of the issue. It would be a waste of my breath to suggest you not take her words personally because to many this is inarguably personal; and hurtful actions come with consequences. Although, I don’t believe Ms. Rowling speaks with malicious intent, but rather a passion for what she believes as truth.

Although I’ve read others in the series, I have yet to read Ms. Rowling’s new book. My understanding is that there is a murderous man who wears a dress that carries part of the story line. If memory serves, Ms. Rowling is the master at multiple story lines within the same book. Does that mean this characterization is acceptable? No. But, it isn’t new either. She isn’t the first to work with a negative plot that appropriates the adverse connotations of the transgender community. She won’t be the last and she and every other author will certainly be complicit in contributing to the shared hurtful message of trans stereotypes that make it increasingly difficult for trans persons to find acceptance and inclusion in their everyday lives.

But someone not agreeing with or liking the words doesn’t mean the author shouldn’t have license to write them. I won’t defend what at this point far exceeds transphobic intimations from Ms. Rowling’s tweeted posts and responses because I know without question that trans women are women and trans men are men; but I won’t deny either that everyone has a different story to support their beliefs and will ever advocate a person’s right to tell their story – whether fictional or in truth.

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