J.K. Rowling is a bigot and a transphobe. This is an undeniable fact.
With that out of the way, before I continue, I urge you to check out these responses from transgender people using their platforms to speak out and educate others:
JK Rowling Transphobia Explained (A Rant) – Jessie Gender
Breaking Down JK Rowling’s Transphobic Essay – Jessie Gender
Let’s Talk JK Rowling’s Transphobic Book – Jessie Gender
JK Rowling and the Detransition Narrative – Shonalika
JK Rowling’s Anti-Trans Tweets | Trans Guy Reacts – Jammidodger
Responding to JK Rowlings Essay | Is It Anti-Trans? – Jammidodger
J.K. Rowling is Transphobic? Trans Woman Responds… – Samantha Lux
It is undeniable that Rowling’s past work has contained antisemetic and Islamaphobic coding, and the glaring issue of outright using lycanthropy as an allegory for AIDS and HIV in a world where the victims of it are almost universally dehumanised and driven to harm others or even spread their condition. Where one form of bigotry exists, further bigotry often follows. We’ve seen her support transphobic influencers, and make remarks that are snidely anti-trans while attempting a veil of egaliarianism.
But that’s not what I’m here to discuss. In part because there are better voices to listen to than mine on this matter, and in part because what I want to address is something I actually have expertise in.
The fact is, it was inevitable that J.K. Rowling would eventually do something like write a book where the villain is a serial killer who dresses as a woman to pursue his victims. This is, after all, what most transphobes believe is the truth of transgender people (transgender women in particular); that they are performing a gender in order to catch people unawares and take advantage, victimise, or assault them. The reality is, of course, nothing of the sort. Transgender people are more at risk of assault than any cisgender person on the grounds of their gender. Whether Rowling is conscious of the danger her words and work can bring to the lived experienced of transgender people is irrelevant. She’s had enough time, and enough kickback, that if she cared, she’d have educated herself.
And every author who is biased against a minority does the same thing.
I’ll let you in on a little-discussed secret: Authors love when their readers believe the same things they do. They love it even more then they convince their readers to believe it. Some don’t realise it. Others will deny it. A few will admit it. But they all feel it. And eventually, every author’s beliefs bleed into their writing. To see this, you have to look past what the author and even their character say or do, and watch the narrative. Setting aside the idea of “death of the author” and acknowledging that a work’s impact on the reader is more important than the author’s original intent, you have to understand that the narrative of a book or movie isn’t some random series of events; it’s the literal will of the author.
Orson Scott Card wrote books which stressed the importance of procreation, and where giving in to the desire for same-sex relations was the product of childhood rape and outright punished by the narrative.
H.P. Lovecraft, another famous racist, wrote books that cast miscegenation as a thing of pure existential horror, and was so flagrant in his racism as to title one poem “On The Creation of N***ers”, where he described Black people as “beasts.” Only through attempts as assimilation to Anglo-Saxon culture could he even consider sympathy for any other race.
Even J.R.R. Tolkien, the grandfather of fantasy literature, regarded the land of Ireland to exude evil, and claimed the only thing that kept the Irish from succumbing to it was their strict devotion to Catholicism. It’s no mistake that his heroes live in “The West” and are white, while the evil races loyal to Sauron come from far-off eastern lands or are literal dark-skinned inhuman monsters.
In short, you cannot escape an author’s beliefs. And every author wants you to share those beliefs to some degree or other. Of course we do. We want you to root for our heroes and cheer for our villains’ undoing. Even when writing tragedies, the core of every tragedy is that the hero has some flaw which they are unable to overcome, leading to their downfall. You can’t write a hero whose ending is tragic due to their choice to embrace a same-sex relationship unless you believe that urge to be a flaw. You can’t write a cis-male villain who dresses as a woman to reach their prey unless you see a monster in the people you consider “fake women.”
I do believe that it’s each person’s choice as to how much they can separate the artist from their art. But as you make your decision, make no mistake that somewhere in there is the author showing you who they really are, and hoping that you believe, or can be convinced to believe, the same thing.