Opting for ignorance with J.K Rowling

Sophie Hamilton discusses J.K Rowling's latest bout of criticism.

Sophie Hamilton
20th September 2020

The trajectory of 2020 for J.K Rowling has seen an onslaught of criticism towards her stance on gender and, by proxy, a reiteration of biological sex as an identity marker. The backlash culminated in its peak following a lengthy blog post which, in short, was a justification of her stance on gender and to point out the harm that she felt some public trans activism was causing (of which the blog post and Rowing’s stance has been analysed in length in The Courier by Em Richardson).

After a torrent of trending “#IStandWithJKRowling” and alternatively “#RIPJKRowling” hashtags over the past few months, there has been a division of public opinion. This month has been no different with The Telegraph publishing a review of her new crime fiction series instalment, Troubled Blood (under her Galbraith pseudonym) which features the antagonistic Dennis Creed who is described as a serial killer who cross-dresses in order to appear more amiable to his victims.

As per the previous scandals, the novel has erupted in a dichotomy of viewpoints on the matter. On one hand, a surge of opinion that such a narrative choice in general – and even more so given Rowling’s notorious stance – has avowed the novel an extension of yet another of Rowling’s unsolicited opinions on matters that don’t pertain to her: just because a cross-dressing character is cisgender, doesn’t mean that the story is absolved of transphobic tropes and queer-coded villains.

Troubled Blood (Cormoran Strike 5): Amazon.co.uk: Galbraith, Robert:  9780751579932: Books
J.K. Rowling's new book | Credit: Amazon

On the other hand, a backlash against Rowling tends to galvanise a wave of proponents that do jump to her defence. Take Piers Morgan, who clashed with Benjamin Butterworth discussing the controversy. Further to this, articles have been written in her defence against critics who have not read the book and feel that Rowling is victim of the mob of cancel culture.

Irrespective of where opinion lies, every time Rowling has made a comment or action in recent times regarding trans issues, it has come hand-in-hand with numerous hashtags, countless articles and daytime TV debates.

This article is intending to call for, maybe counterintuitively, a future pledge of ignorance towards J.K Rowling’s future takes on trans issues (and any comments that reinforce a rhetoric that those who seek to polarise trans people delight in).

It is a tempting impulse for anybody to immediately rebuke Rowling with every single arbitrary harmful comment she makes in the name of ally-ship, especially as an LGB identified person, with the intention of standing in solidarity with trans brothers and, particularly in this case, sisters. However, the exposure afforded from the public outcry is simultaneously a shout in the void and a tonic for Rowling, or so it seems.

For every rebuttal of Rowling’s transphobic rhetoric, there are numerous radical feminists with often fictitious anecdotes who strengthen Rowling’s resolve to stand up in the name of “womanhood.” But Rowling is aware of this point, which she asserts in her blog post:

“The supreme irony is that the attempt to silence women with the word ‘TERF’ may have pushed more young women towards radical feminism than the movement’s seen in decades.”

While the acronym TERF was certainly not coined to silence women, but rather to hold any person accountable of harmful perspectives, she does make a point that media outcries are having an adverse effect.

And after all, in a sense, the constant outcry does little but create a media frenzy that becomes more akin to performative ally-ship. Of course, people in positions of power should be held to account when they are complicit, but we need to be more diligent in listening to trans people, who are more tired of their lives being politicised and their identities contested by cisgender people. When ally-ship ends on social media it ceases to be ally-ship at all and often, for a lot of the LGB of the acronym and any other ally, the vilification of a celebrity is as far as it goes.

Instead of the deluge of articles and tweets giving a platform to specific instances of transphobia, we would all do better by devoting time to uplifting trans voices within journalism, the media and creative arts generally and engaging with resources and having meaningful discussions with people in your life who are ignorant to trans people’s plight in their everyday lives.


Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen – A trailer for the documentary about trans representation and depictions

Trans Rights Resources UK

Black Trans Rights Resources

Featured image: National Review

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