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J.K. Rowling is in hot water again.
It seems the Harry Potter author — whose latest claim to fame has been getting accused by many of transphobia after wading into controversial discussions about gender and biological sex — is once again the topic of criticism. This time, it’s due to just-revealed details about her new novel (for adults, written under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith), Troubled Blood.
“The meat of the book is the investigation into a cold case: the disappearance of GP Margot Bamborough in 1974, thought to have been a victim of Dennis Creed, a transvestite serial killer,” wrote reviewer Jake Kerridge in the Telegraph. “One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: Never trust a man in a dress.”
The response, so far, has been negative, with “#RIPJKRowling” trending on Twitter, as she’s called out with a mix of anger and exasperation — not only for using the well-worn and damaging trope of the transgender serial killer (á la Psycho, Dressed to Kill, Silence of the Lambs and more) in her new book, but for doing so on the heels of her most recent public row about transgender identity, which is being viewed by her critics as a bizarre doubling down.
Rowling sparked accusations of transphobia back in December 2019, when she tweeted in defense of a U.K. researcher, Maya Forstater, who had lost her job after expressing views on transgender people — including the belief that “it is impossible to change sex” — that were deemed “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” After the woman filed a discrimination lawsuit and lost, Rowling came to her defense on Twitter, noting, “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like … But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”
That caused a huge uproar among many in the LGBTQ community, who called her out with comments from “heartbreaking” to “TERF.” The latter is an acronym that stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” a pejorative term used to describe a feminist who is considered to have transphobic beliefs. Still, others came to Rowling’s defense, with feminist writer Julie Bindel, for example, noting, “YOU ARE AMAZING.”
Then, just when the angry buzz seemed to have died down a bit, Rowling returned to Twitter in June, when she shared an op-ed and apparently took issue with the headline: “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.” With her tweet, she noted, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
And there was more:
The tweets re-sparked rage, hurt and allegations of transphobia, including from a range of LGBTQ activists, and from organizations including the Trevor Project and GLAAD.
“This isn’t an easy piece to write, for reasons that will shortly become clear, but I know it’s time to explain myself on an issue surrounded by toxicity. I write this without any desire to add to that toxicity,” she wrote, and then outlined “five reasons for being worried about the new trans activism.” Then came more tweets, in July, calling out the long-term health risks of hormone therapy used to facilitate gender transition. Yet another backlash followed.
Now, with this latest bit of news about Rowling’s new book, the hurt has been stoked, say her detractors.
Still, some have come out in her defense — most notably actor Robbie Coltrane, who played Hagrid in the Harry Potter films and told Radio Times of the outcry, “I don’t think what she said was offensive really. I don’t know why but there’s a whole Twitter generation of people who hang around waiting to be offended.” Other defenders include journalist Kim Willsher, Atlantic staff writer Helen Lewis and writers Helen Dale and Andrew Doyle, as well as the U.K. group (which, too, has been called transphobic) LGB Alliance.
Still, many say their view of Rowling has been forever tainted, especially in light of the latest book. That includes USA Today culture critic Kelly Lawler, who wrote on Tuesday that, while she’s been a longtime fan of all her fiction, “ever since Rowling made headlines this summer for her comments on transgender rights that have been widely condemned as transphobic, I can’t see any story she's written in the same light … You can't separate the art from the artist. Not anymore, not when the tone of both author and novel is the same. Rowling maintains she supports trans people, but we can only judge her by her actions and words. After reading 927 pages of them, I'm not inclined to change my judgment.”
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