While tens of thousands around the world marched for justice and equality on Saturday, author J.K. Rowling decided to tweet about the phrase, “people who menstruate.”
Her tweet, however, backfired bigger than the Avada Kedavra spell in her Harry Potter novels. Then, in the face of a swift backlash, the novelist doubled-down: she claimed to be both a supporter of transgender rights and a victim of hate. And she gave the most clear indication yet that she stands with feminists who will not accept trans women are women and trans men are men.
Rowling apparently never read Zoyander Street’s 2016 essay about transgender men like him who had periods, or saw the news last October that Always brand sanitary pads dropped the Venus symbol representing females from its products, at the behest of trans and non-binary customers.
“‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” Rowling sarcastically tweeted in her share of the opinion piece posted on the site of a global development community media platform called Devex.
Transgender, non-binary people, and allies responded with a flood of tweets, including singer Mary Lambert, an out lesbian who called out Rowling with a series of direct questions: “Do you feel like more of a woman when you punch down? Are you threatened? Some trans men menstruate. Why does that affect you? Why do you want to police that?”
Writer and advice columnist Beth McColl tweeted these questions: “you can write a whole magical world but can’t fathom that trans men exist? i haven’t had a period since 2017—has my womanhood been paused until i can summon one?”
Trans actress Patti Harrison and writer Rowan Beckett Grigsby reminded their followers of the repeated criticism that Rowling is not only a transphobe but also a racist.
“The North America stuff is EGREGIOUSLY anti-Native American and colonized,” added Grigsby.
Activist, lesbian, and Twitter commentator Leah McElrath noted that Saturday was the 12th consecutive day of protests across the U.S. sparked by the killing of an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis police custody, George Floyd.
“Today is a day of global human solidarity—and THIS is what you’re doing? I haven’t menstruated in a decade, but I’m still a woman,” tweeted McElrath. “Recognizing the experience of transmen who menstruate doesn’t endanger my womanhood. Embracing transwomen as sisters doesn’t either.”
Unlike Rowling’s controversial tweet in December, and her so-called “accidental like” of a tweet one year ago describing trans women as “men in dresses,” this time the author deliberately and repeatedly engaged Twitter users in both the most defensive and offensive ways possible.
In her next tweet, Rowling positioned herself as a transgender advocate who’s done her homework on trans bodies.
“I’ve spent much of the last three years reading books, blogs and scientific papers by trans people, medics and gender specialists. I know exactly what the distinction is,” claimed Rowling. “Never assume that because someone thinks differently, they have no knowledge.”
Rowling then stated that it’s “a nonsense” to think of her as anything but feeling empathy for trans people. But she threw all that into question by re-introducing a theme from December, in which she once again declared that “sex is real.”
Civil-rights attorney Ezra Ishmael Young was among the many who countered that tweet with their own: “Sex is very real, just not in the narrow way you conceptualize it.”
This phrase refers to a perception generally held by opponents of trans self-identification in the United Kingdom that the very idea of gender identity disavows so-called “biological sex.”
“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction,” tweeted Rowling. “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.”
“Truth,” these days, is in the Twitter feed of the account holder. This particular tweet evoked widespread and passionate reactions from activists like Charlotte Clymer, and actors Anthony Rapp and Mara Wilson, who responded to Rowling’s line about knowing and loving trans people: “I assure you, they do not love you back.”
The writer Nico Lang tweeted in response: “It isn’t hate to speak the truth” is the exact same language that anti-LGBTQ hate groups like Liberty Counsel use to defend themselves. They love LGBTQ people, they say, so much they have devoted their lives to making us second-class citizens.”
Then he added: “If you ‘know and love’ trans people, you can stop and listen. Also, it takes some real f***ing gall to say you know more than trans people do about their own lives and experiences during motherf***ing LGBTQ pride month, which honors protests led by trans women of color.”
Mia Macy tweeted that she woke up Saturday to find Rowling had inexplicably blocked her. The former police detective earned her fame as the plaintiff in a landmark 2012 federal case that found Title VII, the federal sex discrimination law, protects employees who are discriminated against because they are transgender or gender non-conforming.
One year later, the Department of Justice determined she was unlawfully discriminated against by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, when her job offer to be a ballistics technician was rescinded, after she disclosed she was trans. Tweets on her timeline clued her in to Rowling’s latest opinions, and she agreed to share her opinion with The Daily Beast.
“I’m not shocked at J.K.’s behavior; modern society has had a long history of artists that produce inclusive works but subscribe personally to abhorrent ideologies. She is just a continuation of the new modern warfare against trans people sweeping the U.K, U.S., and Europe,” wrote Macy. “The trans exclusionary radical feminists have entered into a strange, 3-way truce with fundamentalists and extremists, to use fear and pseudo-science to attack and strip trans people of civil liberties. I hope Universal Studios, fans and others decide to spend their money on supportive ventures.”
Those “trans exclusionary radical feminists” are often called TERFs for short, as Rowling was again Saturday, something she and those who share her anti-trans views resist being labeled, even though that acronym was actually coined by a cisgender (meaning “not transgender”) woman. She tweeted that no matter what ugly names people use to attack her, she’s a victim of hate because she is a woman.
“‘Feminazi’, ‘TERF’, ‘bitch’, ‘witch’. Times change. Woman-hate is eternal.”
“Hate” was a theme in her next few tweets as well, as was that “sex is real” theme:
“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.”
In the very next tweet, Rowling drew a distinction between how she grew up, compared to trans women, saying she did not believe it was “hateful to say so.”
“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans,” tweeted Rowling. “At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”
As my editor, The Daily Beast’s Tim Teeman, pointed out, there is no “if” about whether trans people face discrimination—when there are policies such as President Trump’s ban on trans people serving in the military, or the presence of trans woman Aimee Stephens (who died May 12) in a group of LGBTQ people leading the current landmark discrimination case at the Supreme Court.
The LGBTQ rights organization GLAAD weighed-in, suggesting those upset by Rowling’s twitter storm do something positive and donate to groups that support Black trans people.
That suggestion spread like wildfire, with Axios chief technology correspondent Ina Fried reaching for her checkbook and urging her followers to “turn ignorant words into righteous action. Black trans people are on the front lines of the racial and lgbtqia justice movements and risking their lives every day to just exist.”
So did comedian Eliza Skinner, who donated to the Trans Law Center and the Trans Women of Color Collective. Paper magazine columnist Rose Dommu tweeted a donation to the Emergency Release Fund which helps LGBTQ people out of Rikers Island jail and ICE detention.
Writer, podcaster and educator Ashley C. Ford tweeted that since Rowling followed her she would provide her with direct links to charitable foundations that benefit the transgender community, like TransLifeline, which serves as a national resource for trans and gender non-conforming folks to turn to in times of despair, oppression or at risk for suicide. Even The Daily Beast’s editor at large, Molly Jong-Fast joined-in.
Of course, Rowling had her defenders, too: Irish anti-trans activist Graham Linehan, a member of the U.K. Parliament, and some lesbians and gay men who grasped at their pearls while moaning about how “trans activists” were in fact “extremists.”
Rapp, who plays a gay scientist on Star Trek: Discovery, had the best response: “There are a number of white dudes in my mentions saying something along the lines of ‘I don’t see what’s transphobic about what #JKRowling said.’ White dudes: your privilege is showing. A vulnerable community of people is telling you their lived experience. LISTEN TO THEM!!!”
At the end of the day, it appeared Rowland lost about 1,200 followers as a result of her tweets and online clashes with transgender advocates and allies.
Dr. Bethany Grace Howe, a research fellow at the Caitlyn Jenner Foundation and a recent graduate of the University of Oregon, noted that it’s difficult for Hogwarts fans to disconnect the characters they loved and grew up with, from the author and her opinions.
“I feel like I just learned J.R.R. Tolkien was a Nazi, Gene Roddenberry was in the KKK, or Stan Lee was a skinhead,” Howe wrote. “It leaves you wondering just how much ignorance and intolerance lies buried in the places your imagination once thought were safe.”
Tina Terry, a black government worker in Sacramento, Calif., offered this perspective: “It is so unfortunate that this woman is using her platform to propagate hate and, as a result, is as much of the problem as anyone who has oppressed anybody over anything.”