Criticism Continues as J.K. Rowling Posts Open Letter About Speaking Out On "Sex and Gender Issues"

The bestselling author counters those accusing her of being transphobic, while actor Daniel Radcliffe urges "Harry Potter" lovers to hold on to their individual, "sacred" connections to the story.

J.K. Rowling is famous for creating the world of Harry Potter, but she may lose her internationally celebrated author status and become infamous instead for a few tweets and her opinion on the transgender community.

J.K. Rowling. Photo by Debra Hurford Brown

On June 6, Rowling tweeted an article with a headline that read, "Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate." The bestselling author commented, "‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?"

After being critized for the tweet, which was called transphobic and hateful, Rowling launched a three-tweet  thread that read: "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.

"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.

"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."

Rowling spent days being criticized for the tweets. She was called a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist)—not the first time Rowling was given that label. This time, though, even movie Harry himself, Daniel Radcliffe, and Fantastic Beasts star Eddie Redmayne spoke out in opposition to her statments. 

Radcliffe wrote a post on the website of The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people. 

"I realize that certain press outlets will probably want to paint this as in-fighting between J.K. Rowling and myself, but that is really not what this is about, nor is it what’s important right now," Radcliffe wrote. "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."

Radcliffe included a link to The Trevor Project's educational resource on being an ally to transgender and nonbinary youth.

But Rowling is not backing down. Instead, on Wednesday, she posted a lengthy open letter on her website entitled "J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues." She listed the reasons she spoke publicly and wrote about the many times she has been attacked and "canceled" in the past. She wrote about being a frequently banned author who believes in free speech. She wrote about misogyny. And she defended and offered reasons for her statements.

She tweeted the link to the letter with the words "TERF wars."

The letter only added flame to the fire, and while some Twitter users lamented the toll these comments took on their enjoyment of the books, and others offered suggestions of alternative titles to read to avoid Rowling's work, Radcliffe hopes Potter fans won't abandon their Hogwarts family. 

"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," wrote Radcliffe. "I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual; if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. 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."

In the past, Rowling has also been accused of being racist because of the absence of people of color in the Harry Potter books and movies, as well as her casting of an Asian woman as Nagini in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

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