J.K. Rowling’s supporters frequently claim the author has never actually said or done anything transphobic. It’s a position you can see on social media, in the pages of the New York Times, and even on a new podcast with Rowling herself.
It’s also an easily debunked lie.
Some of this confusion around Rowling’s opinions can be cleared up with a definition of transphobia, which doesn’t — despite the “phobia” — solely mean fear of trans people, but, per Merriam-Webster, also an “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against transgender people.” (In fact, Merriam-Webster’s own examples list cites multiple articles related to Rowling.) Rowling can say she likes everyone, but she has displayed that prejudice time and again. She’s also peddled explicit fear of trans people, particularly trans women, insisting they’re an inherently dangerous threat to cisgender women.
Although some in the media distort the anger directed at Rowling from trans activists, trans people, and allies, the truth is those feelings — not just anger, but betrayal and grief — are justified. Rowling has made her antagonistic position on trans issues clear through tweets, sound bites, actions, and even a 3,600-word blog post. By 2023, her transphobia has become so rampant and constant that it’s difficult to build a completely comprehensive timeline of it. For those attuned to it, she doesn’t have to spell it out every single time; it’s a huge part of her identity. These dog whistles only lead to more confusion, however, allowing people to point to the absence of immediately obvious bigotry to claim she’s being unfairly maligned. Additionally, she increasingly threatens detractors with legal action, which contributes to critics of her behavior falling silent. Conspicuously, many of her legal threats appear to be directed at individuals identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Since Rowling began airing her views, her community, especially online where many of these conversations are had, is now stacked with similarly minded people who share her transphobic beliefs. For instance, Rowling is friends with numerous anti-trans activists, including Helen Joyce, who’s made alarmingly transphobic statements calling for a “reduction” in the number of trans people. She’s tweeted public support for anti-gay, anti-trans activist Caroline Farrow. These connections are part of a social network echo chamber of trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs (sometimes called “radfems” or the “gender-critical” movement). In Rowling’s native UK, TERFism has gained a unique stronghold over some particularly vocal, ostensibly liberal feminists like Rowling.
The facts we can easily point to suggest that Rowling has been turning toward an anti-trans stance over a long period, beginning mostly with simple engagement on social media and leading to fiery and extremist statements. While labeling something transphobic is a serious accusation, and not something we do lightly, it’s important to recognize Rowling’s bigotry for what it is. The rundown that follows shows her growing embrace of transphobic, even extremist rhetoric.
2014: Rowling writes The Silkworm, the second novel in the Cormoran Strike mystery series, which involves a trans woman who is portrayed as conspicuous and unable to pass. The book includes a scene where the main character gleefully threatens this character with prison rape.
October 2017: Rowling “likes” a tweet linking to a controversial, since-deleted Medium article referring to a theoretical trans woman in a female space as “a stranger with a penis.” While liking a tweet might seem small, this is notable because the piece made the basic argument Rowling continues to make today, namely that trans women are by default part of a “male-bodied” group who are dangerous to women and who should not have access to women’s bathrooms. In the public sphere, this kicks off questions about whether Rowling is anti-trans, which are followed by the author entrenching further.
JK Rowling hitting that like button on a "trans women are rapists" piece, if you were wondering whether to relax as a trans person in the UK pic.twitter.com/W5JvBmylPW— Shin Ultratran (@sistersinead) October 24, 2017
2018: In March, Rowling “likes” (and then unlikes) a tweet referring to trans women as “men in dresses” and implying that trans rights are “misogyny.” A JKR spokesperson later claims that this “like” was an accident and that Rowling was having “a middle-aged moment.”
Wingardium transphobia @jk_rowling pic.twitter.com/s6cJ2rIr6A— Philip J. Ellis (@Philip_Ellis) March 21, 2018
In September, Rowling “likes” a tweet linking to an opinion column by known TERF Janice Turner, which argues yet again that trans women are inherently sexual predators, referring to them as “fox[es] in a henhouse ... identify[ing] as [hens].” The myth that trans women are a danger to cis women is a grossly transphobic stereotype with almost no real-world justification, but Rowling pins most of her anti-trans arguments on it, using her experience as a survivor of domestic abuse to justify her prejudice.
December 2019: In a shift toward openly voicing her anti-trans sentiments, Rowling vocally supports the plaintiff of an employment discrimination suit in the UK. Maya Forstater became a cause célèbre in the TERF community after suing the company that chose not to renew her contract. In 2018, Forstater posted numerous anti-trans tweets, both generalizing about trans people and directly targeting one nonbinary person. The tweets made staff members at her company uncomfortable, and ultimately, in March 2019, the organization declined to renew Forstater’s contract. Rowling’s tweet, in which she distorts trans identity and the facts of the case, marks the first time many people become aware of her growing transphobic tendencies.
June 2020: In a tweet, Rowling mocks the trans-inclusive phrase “people who menstruate” in an article about pandemic menstrual health, implying that the phrase, meant to encompass trans men and nonbinary people, erases, overrides, or obscures the word “women.”
In a follow-up to the previous tweet and the backlash it spawned, Rowling posts a thread implying that trans activists are “erasing the concept of [biological] sex” and along with it “the lived reality of women.” She also states, “I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans.” (To date, she has not.)
Days later, Rowling produces her most overt and lengthy discussion of her views, a 3,600-word manifesto published on her website responding to “the new trans activism.” The post is replete with myths and false transphobic stereotypes, particularly revolving around the narratives that gender and biology are inextricable and that trans women are dangerous. Rowling states the movement offers “cover to predators”. She also repeatedly amplifies the alarmist, false idea that teens are transitioning as part of a social media trend, a claim based on a handful of inaccurate and shady scientific studies claiming that an outsize number of trans teens will detransition later, studies that have since been widely debunked.
August 2020: After the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization issues a statement repudiating her transphobia, Rowling doubles down on her position and returns an award given to her by the org in 2019.
September 2020: Rowling releases the Cormoran Strike book Troubled Blood and is widely criticized after she creates a villain who preys on women by wearing women’s clothes. This is exactly the specter of a sexual predator that Rowling believes hides behind the label of “trans woman.”
December 2020: In an interview with Good Housekeeping, Rowling claims that “90 percent” of Harry Potter fans secretly agree with her anti-trans views, but that “many are afraid to speak up because they fear for their jobs and even for their personal safety.” This once again stereotypes trans activists as an angry, entitled, and vicious mob.
July 2021: Rowling tweets a screenshot of a tiny account — reportedly with around 200 followers at the time — of a self-identified trans user who mentions her in a tweet discussing gender identity. Since Rowling did not remove the trans user’s information in the screenshot that went out to her 14 million followers, that user is subsequently inundated with transphobic harassment and ultimately deletes their Twitter account.
November 2021: Rowling publicizes that a group of three trans people shared a photo of themselves holding protest signs outside of her house, saying that she had called the police out of alarm (a fact Scottish police also verified). Rowling claims that these protesters had “doxxed” her, and the media runs with this report, which plays into the larger evolving media narrative of Rowling as a victim of trans harassment. But as many people have pointed out, Rowling’s address is publicly known — so well-known, in fact, that it is a frequent fan tour stop. Police later officially state there is “no criminality” in what the trans protesters had done.
As trans culture vlogger Jessie Earl points out, trans people themselves are at much higher risk of experiencing doxxing, bullying, and harassment than cisgender people. Earl also notes that Rowling has supported and platformed (through Twitter likes, follows, and retweets) multiple TERFs who had themselves doxxed other people, including Marion Millar, who faced criminal charges for homophobically doxxing a police officer (though those charges were dropped pending review); Rosie Duffield, an MP who drew criticism for “publicly outing” a staff member who resigned over her transphobia; and Rosa Freedman, a professor who doxxed a student who emailed her requesting a chat about her views on trans equality.
December 2021: Rowling shares a Sunday Times article that mocks the Scottish police for recognizing transgender identity. In her tweet, she parodies 1984, writing, “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman.”
Later that month, in the middle of a thread ostensibly attempting to support trans equality, Rowling tweets, “The question at the heart of this debate is whether sex or gender identity should form the basis of decisions on safeguarding, provision of services, sporting categories and other areas where women and girls currently have legal rights and protections.” The idea behind what Rowling is saying is that allowing trans women equal access to those spaces will erode current legal rights for cisgender women and girls. This is a position that only makes sense if you are denying that trans women and girls are women and girls. Rowling then adds an insistence on separating “sex” from “gender,” an essentialist idea that contradicts current medical practice and scientific research, which advocates for treating gender identity as linked primarily to the brain, not anatomy.
March 2022: In response to a since-deleted tweet (which was itself a reply to a tweet in which Rowling implied trans women were “predators”), Rowling tweets about a sexual assault committed by a trans woman, using this single incident to imply that all trans women should be denied access to public spaces designated for women.
The next day, on International Women’s Day, Rowling posts a series of tweets maligning gender-inclusive language and mockingly referencing Voldemort by sarcastically opining that the day in future would be known as “She Who Must Not Be Named Day.” She also explicitly criticizes gender-inclusive legislation.
Later that month, British lawyer Alison Bailey partially wins an employment discrimination lawsuit in which she claimed that she was discriminated against because of her gender-essentialist views. While the lawsuit was in progress, Rowling posted a tweet urging her followers to financially support Bailey.
August 2022: Rowling’s latest Cormoran Strike book, The Ink Black Heart, once again comes under fire for transphobia because of its depiction of a character broadly viewable as a satirical stand-in for Rowling herself — an anti-trans public figure who is “canceled” by the internet on trumped-up charges of transphobia and then killed.
December 2022: Rowling screencaps a thread about the controversial new Hogwarts Legacy video game by the aforementioned popular transgender YouTuber Jessie Earl, a.k.a. Jessie Gender. Earl points out that supporting the franchise would “justify her continued targeting of trans people”; Rowling, in response, sarcastically accuses Earl of practicing “purethink,” implying trans advocacy is a type of religious dogma. An onslaught of transphobic social media harassment targeting Earl follows.
Since JK Rowling retweeted me with an honestly nonsensical argument; I’m gonna stay off the Musk app today cause she knows she’s sending harassment my way. I send you all love & this article with my thoughts on Rowling continued harm against trans people. https://t.co/MJ9yizkCcM https://t.co/7NfYMVr65i— Jessie Earl (@jessiegender) December 17, 2022
This month, Rowling also personally funds a new domestic violence support center in Edinburgh, Scotland, which explicitly excludes trans women; Rowling frames this new center as offering “women-centered and women-delivered care.” Edinburgh’s longstanding domestic violence support center has had a trans woman as its director since 2021. Trans women, in particular women of color, are at a vastly higher risk of experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault than cisgender women.
January 2023: Rowling tweets that she is “Deeply amused by those telling me I’ve lost their admiration due to the disrespect I show violent, duplicitous rapists.” The most immediate context for this comment is presumably both the backlash to Hogwarts Legacy and the ongoing backlash over Rowling’s views writ large regarding trans women being dangerous predators. So a reasonable implication of Rowling’s words seems to be that she considers trans women, by default, to be “violent, duplicitous rapists.”
March 2023: A new podcast, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, produced by Bari Weiss’s The Free Press and hosted by prominent former Westboro Baptist Church member Megan Phelps-Roper, featured interviews with Rowling. In its fifth episode, Rowling begins discussing the modern trans rights movement, calling it “a cultural movement that was illiberal in its methods and questionable in its ideas” and insisting, “I believe, absolutely, that there is something dangerous about this movement and that it must be challenged.”
She then compares the movement to Death Eaters — the villainous supremacists in her books, analogous to Nazis:
[S]ome of you have not understood the books. The Death Eaters claimed, “We have been made to live in secret, and now is our time, and any who stand in our way must be destroyed. If you disagree with us, you must die.” They demonized and dehumanized those who were not like them.
I am fighting what I see as a powerful, insidious, misogynistic movement, that has gained huge purchase in very influential areas of society. I do not see this particular movement as either benign or powerless, so I’m afraid I stand with the women who are fighting to be heard against threats of loss of livelihood and threats to their safety.
While Rowling can say she only intends to target the specific trans activists who are angry at her, that’s an impossible distinction. She does not mention any formal group or entity that represents trans rights that has acted against her. The only context we have for what she is responding to are non-affiliated individuals on Twitter sending angry messages in response to her transphobic comments. Indeed, the episode is titled “The Tweets” and features Phelps-Roper reading angry and sad tweets from former fans of Rowling. This generalization doesn’t distinguish “the movement” from people who are simply angry and upset with Rowling. Instead, it seems to imply that “good” trans people are the ones who accept Rowling’s version of their identity and allow her viewpoint — that they aren’t who they say they are — to dominate their fight for social acceptance.
Trans people are estimated to comprise about half a percent of populations in both the US and the UK. A 2018 study from UCLA found no evidence to support that anti-trans legislation makes designated public spaces safer, but did find that “reports of privacy and safety violations in these places are exceedingly rare.” In essence, there was no danger to begin with.
Clarification, March 3, 12:15 pm ET: Updated to clarify details of the character who is “canceled” in The Ink Black Heart.
Update, March 16, 10:15 am ET: Updated with new quotes from Rowling.
Clarification, March 16, 3:20 pm ET: Updated to clarify that Rowling’s remarks drew a comparison between the Death Eaters and the trans rights “movement,” rather than trans people.