Harry Potter series author J.K. Rowling came under fire in early June 2020 for controversial tweets she posted about the transgender community. Her stance has caused fans and stars of the wizarding world like Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Eddie Redmayne to speak out against her. Here’s everything you need to know:
What did J.K. Rowling say, exactly?
On June 6, 2020, Rowling retweeted an op-ed piece that discussed “people who menstruate,” apparently taking issue with the fact that the story did not use the word women. “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” she wrote.
That initial tweet garnered a lot of backlash, but the Harry Potter author did not relent and wrote about her views in more detail. “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. 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,” she tweeted. “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—i.e., to male violence—‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences—is a nonsense.”
She continued, “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. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”
Then, on June 10, 2020, Rowling published a lengthy post on her website and sent out a tweet that read “TERF Wars.” (TERF is an acronym that stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist.)
“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. “For people who don’t know: last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking the judge to rule on whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law. Judge Tayler ruled that it wasn’t.”
Rowling explains that she became interested in trans issues while researching a character she’s writing. Rowling also outlined “five reasons for being worried about the new trans activism.”
The fan backlash:
Rowling’s initial tweets and her subsequent doubling down have drawn a lot of ire from trans activists and Harry Potter fans, many of whom had found comfort in the story of an outsider finding a place where he belonged.
The celebrity and industry response:
Radcliffe, Harry Potter himself, was the first star from the franchise to release a statement (via the Trevor Project) about Rowling’s comments.
“I realize that certain press outlets will probably want to paint this as in-fighting between J.K. Rowling and myself,” he said, “but that is really not what this is about, nor is it what’s important right now. While Jo is unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken, as someone who has been honored to work with and continues to contribute to The Trevor Project for the last decade, and just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something at this moment. Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I. According to The Trevor Project, 78% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity. It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.”
He continued, “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished. I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you…. And in my opinion, nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.”
Watson, who played Hermione Granger, also spoke out in support of the trans community. “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are. I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you, and love you for who you are,” she wrote in a series of tweets. “I donate to @Mermaids_Gender and @mamacash. If you can, perhaps you’ll feel inclined to do the same. Happy #PRIDE2020 Sending love x.”
(Watson has not been without controversy lately, either. She was criticized by some for originally just posting black squares on Instagram in early June 2020 in support of Black Lives Matter but failing to provide any information about the cause.)
Grint, who portrayed Ron Wesley, issued a statement in response to Rowling’s essay as well.
“I firmly stand with the trans community and echo the sentiments expressed by many of my peers. Trans women are women. Trans men are men,” Grint said, according to the Sunday Times on Friday, June 12, 2020. “We should all be entitled to live with love and without judgment.”
Also, Bonnie Wright, the actor who played the onscreen sister of Grint’s Ron, Ginny Weasley, spoke out via Twitter. “If Harry Potter was a source of love and belonging for you, that love is infinite and there to take without judgment or question. Transwomen are Women. I see and love you, Bonnie x,” she wrote.
Redmayne, who appeared in Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts franchise and played a transgender woman in The Danish Girl, released a lengthy statement to Variety.
“Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative, and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself. This is an ongoing process,” he said. “As someone who has worked with both JK Rowling and members of the trans community, I wanted to make it absolutely clear where I stand. I disagree with Jo’s comments. Trans women are women, trans men are men, and nonbinary identities are valid. I would never want to speak on behalf of the community but I do know that my dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities, which all too often results in violence and abuse. They simply want to live their lives peacefully, and it’s time to let them do so.”
Warner Bros., which produced the Harry Potter films, released this statement about Rowling’s comments:
Wait, how is Stephen King involved?
J.K. Rowling reportedly deleted a gushing tweet about Stephen King after the renowned horror writer tweeted in support of trans women.
Here’s what apparently went down: King retweeted a message from Rowling’s account. “Andrea Dworkin wrote: ‘Men often react to women’s words—speaking and writing—as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence,’” Rowling tweeted on June 28, 2020. “It isn’t hateful for women [to] speak about their own experiences, nor do they deserve shaming for doing so.”
In response, Rowling sent a now-deleted tweet praising the best-selling author. “I’ve always revered @StephenKing, but today my love reached—maybe not Annie Wilkes levels—but new heights,” she reportedly tweeted, according to Us Weekly. “It’s so much easier for men to ignore women’s concerns, or to belittle them, but I won’t ever forget the men who stood up when they didn’t need to. Thank you, Stephen.”
However, when a fan asked King to respond to Rowling’s transphobic statements, the author replied that, “Trans women are women.”
According to Hogwarts fans on Twitter as well as to Us Weekly, Rowling deleted her tweet about King shortly after.
Almost one year later, King spoke about what went down, adding that Rowling also blocked the famous author on Twitter after his tweet. “Jo canceled me,” the 73-year-old told The Daily Beast in an interview published on May 20, 2021. “She sorta blocked me and all that.
“Here’s the thing: She is welcome to her opinion,” King added, specifically referencing Rowling’s statements on transgender women. “I just felt that her belief was, in my opinion, wrong. We have differing opinions, but that’s life.”
What about the rant in July 2020?
On July 5, 2020, Rowling went on another social media rant after a Twitter user called her out for liking a tweet that compared hormone therapy to antidepressants.
“I’ve ignored fake tweets attributed to me and RTed widely. I’ve ignored porn tweeted at children on a thread about their art. I’ve ignored death and rape threats. I’m not going to ignore this,” Rowling wrote. “When you lie about what I believe about mental health medication and when you misrepresent the views of a trans woman for whom I feel nothing but admiration and solidarity, you cross a line.”
She continued, “Many health professionals are concerned that young people struggling with their mental health are being shunted towards hormones and surgery when this may not be in their best interests. Many, myself included, believe we are watching a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people, who are being set on a lifelong path of medicalisation that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function.”
She once again seemingly called into question the use of hormones. “The long-term health risks of cross-sex hormones have been now been tracked over a lengthy period,” she tweeted. “These side-effects are often minimised or denied by trans activists…None of that may trouble you or disturb your belief in your own righteousness. But if so, I can’t pretend I care much about your bad opinion of me.”
Her new books aren’t helping: part one.
On September 14, 2020, her book Trouble Blood sparked another round of outrage after an early review began making the rounds. The book reportedly follows a detective on the hunt for a cis male serial killer who dresses as a woman in order to hunt and murder cis women. The Telegraph’s review describes it as a “book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress,” per Pink News.
Of course, people had thoughts. In fact, #RIPJKRowling quickly began trending. “She’s convinced she’s a martyr and this is her suicide mission,” one user wrote.
Robbie Coltrane defended J.K. Rowling.
The man who played Hagrid was one of the few actors from the Harry Potter–verse to defend Rowling. “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,” he told Radio Times, per the Standard. “They wouldn’t have won the war, would they? That’s me talking like a grumpy old man, but you just think, Oh, get over yourself. Wise up, stand up straight, and carry on.”
He continued, “I don’t want to get involved in all of that because of all the hate mail and all that shit, which I don’t need at my time of life.”
Pete Davidson had the perfect response to the whole thing on Saturday Night Live.
Davidson, who has a Harry Potter tattoo he now seems to regret, joined SNL’s “Weekend Update” on October 10, 2020, to discuss that summer’s controversy.
“I long for a few young years ago when the worst things she did were those Fantastic Beasts movies,” he joked. “No discrimination there—those films harmed us all equally.”
Watch his full remarks, below:
Eddie Izzard comes to Rowling’s defense.
The comedian, who announced in December 2020 she’s gender-fluid and identifies with she/her pronouns, said in an interview with The Telegraph, “I don’ think J.K. Rowling is transphobic. I think we need to look at the things she has written about in her blog. Women have been through such hell over history. Trans people have been invisible too. I hate the idea we are fighting between ourselves, but it’s not going to be sorted with the wave of a wand. I don’t have all the answers. If people disagree with me, fine, but why are we going through hell on this?”
A new Harry Potter TV show might be happening—and some fans aren’t happy.
In January 2021, rumors started swirling that a Harry Potter TV show was in “early development” at HBO Max. The streaming platform and Warner Bros. shot this down in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, but still fans are chattering. And not all of them are happy about the idea of Rowling profiting off a hypothetical show.
Rowling says she has received death threats.
In response to one person who said “I wish you a very nice pipebomb in mailbox,” she said, “To be fair, when you can’t get a woman sacked, arrested or dropped by her publisher, and cancelling her only made her book sales go up, there’s really only one place to go.”
“Hundreds of trans activists have threatened to beat, rape, assassinate and bomb me I’ve realised that this movement poses no risk to women whatsoever.”
Dave Chappelle came under fire for defending Rowling.
In Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special, which premiered on October 5, the comedian declared he was a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) like Rowling. “Gender is a fact,” he said. “Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth. This is a fact.” He continued on to make several jokes at trans people’s expense, which we will not repeat here. Following the special’s release, many Netflix users are calling for its removal from the streaming platform while creators—like Jaclyn Moore, a writer and co-showrunner on Dear White People—declared they will no longer work with the company.
She did not return for the HP films’ 20th anniversary special on HBO Max.
In an interview with Graham Norton for Virgin Radio UK in August 2022, she corrected the host when he mentioned she was “excluded” from the special. “I wasn’t, actually—I was asked to be on that, and I decided I didn’t want to do it,” she said, per Vanity Fair. “I thought it was about the films more than the books, you know? Quite rightly, as that is what the anniversary was about, so no one said, ‘Don’t come.’”
When asked if she’s still in touch with any of the “young” Harry Potter actors, she replied, “Yes, I do, some more than others, but that was always the case. Some I knew better than others.”
The new books aren’t helping: part two.
In August 2022, Rowling began promoting her new novel, The Ink Black Heart, published under her pen name Robert Galbraith. In the book, which is over a thousand pages long, a YouTube-based cartoonist’s work is accused of being racist, transphobic, and ableist; she’s then doxxed, threatened with rape and death, and is ultimately stabbed to death in a cemetery. According to one reviewer’s take, the book “takes aim” at “social justice warriors.”
But the book is not based on Rowling’s own controversies…says Rowling. “I should make it really clear after some of the things that have happened the last year that this is not depicting [that],” Rowling said to Graham Norton in an interview. “I had written the book before certain things happened to me online. I said to my husband, ‘I think everyone is going to see this as a response to what happened to me,’ but it genuinely wasn’t. The first draft of the book was finished at the point certain things happened.”
Tom Felton dismissed her involvement in the films.
In an interview with The Independent about his memoir, the Draco Malfoy actor said he is “pro-human-rights across the board” and suggested Rowling “wasn’t part of the filmmaking process as much as some people might think.”
“First of all, I don’t know enough about the specifics of what anyone said,” he said of Rowling’s infamous statements, per Variety. “My dog takes up far too much time for me to go into such matters. I mean, the obvious things to say are that I’m pro-choice, pro-discussion, pro-human-rights across the board, and pro-love. And anything that is not those things, I don’t really have much time for.”
The actor continued, “It is also a reminder that as much as Jo is the founder of [these] stories, she wasn’t part of the filmmaking process as much as some people might think. I think I only recall seeing her once or twice on set.”
This post may be updated as new information is available.