J.K. Rowling is one of the world’s most beloved children’s authors thanks to the phenomenon that is Harry Potter. However, a number of inflammatory tweets she posted about the issue of trans women left many of her readers feeling betrayed by someone they once looked up to. And several stars from the movie adaptations of Rowling’s books have also spoken out against her – including Harry Potter himself: Daniel Radcliffe.
Rowling’s attitude towards the trans community was first questioned due to a liked tweet. The author angered many fans when she appeared to give the thumbs up to a description of trans women on the social media platform as “men in dresses.” But a spokesperson for Rowling later claimed that she’d simply mishandled her phone in a “middle-age moment.”
However, Rowling then properly waded in on the subject of trans rights in December 2019 when she lent her support to a woman called Maya Forstater. The British researcher had been fired after posting on Twitter, “Men cannot change into women.” Rowling responded to that news with the tweet, “Dress however you please… But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”
Katie Leung – who appeared in the Harry Potter movie franchise – was one of several famous faces who spoke up for the trans community in response. Though Rowling remained defiant, arguing on Twitter, “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.”
Fanning the flames even higher, Rowling once again spoke about the issue on Twitter in June 2020. The writer referenced an online piece which featured the term “people who menstruate” in the headline. She then added, “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
Rowling denied that she was being transphobic after a significant backlash from many of her followers. She responded, “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.”
Just a few days later Rowling expanded further on her beliefs about trans rights in a detailed blog post. And in it, she listed five specific reasons why the subject was so important to her. Alongside freedom of speech and her interest in safeguarding and educating, Rowling also claimed that “we’re living through the most misogynistic period I’ve ever experienced.”
Rowling explained, “Back in the ‘80s, I imagined that my future daughters, should I have any, would have it far better than I ever did, but between the backlash against feminism and a porn-saturated online culture, I believe things have got significantly worse for girls. Never have I seen women denigrated and dehumanized to the extent they are now.”
Citing several examples, Rowling continued, “From the leader of the free world’s long history of sexual assault accusations and his proud boast of ‘grabbing them by the p***y,’ to the [involuntary celibate] movement that rages against women who won’t give them sex, to the trans activists who declare that TERFs need punching and re-educating, men across the political spectrum seem to agree: women are asking for trouble. Everywhere, [they] are being told to shut up and sit down, or else.”
“Huge numbers of women are justifiably terrified by the trans activists,” Rowling went on. The author claimed that their behavior was in fact doing far more damage to society than good. She added, “Endlessly unpleasant as [the] constant targeting of me has been, I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm.”
So why exactly did Rowling feel the need to speak out at this particular moment? Well, the author revealed that the idea of gender confirmation certificates had particularly concerned her. These will enable trans people to officially change their sex based not on any medical grounds, but on what they identify as.
And Rowling created even more headlines when she opened up about a very difficult period in her life. She wrote, “I’ve been in the public eye now for over 20 years and have never talked publicly about being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor. This isn’t because I’m ashamed those things happened to me, but because they’re traumatic to revisit and remember.”
“I also feel protective of my daughter from my first marriage,” Rowling continued. “I didn’t want to claim sole ownership of a story that belongs to her, too. However, a short while ago, I asked her how she’d feel if I were publicly honest about that part of my life and she encouraged me to go ahead.”
Rowling insisted that she wasn’t referencing the domestic abuse she’d suffered to gain sympathy from her critics. Instead, the author claimed to have spoken “out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces.” Rowling’s statement was met with a mixed response – perhaps unsurprisingly considering how contentious the issue is.
Trans YouTube star Jackson Bird talked to Variety about the disappointment he felt at the author whose work had helped him come to terms with himself. He told the magazine in June 2020, “For her to decide to use her incredible platform to be very critical and hateful towards a particular group of people, it just seems an irresponsible use of the platform by one of the most influential people in the world.”
Indya Moore – who stars in Ryan Murphy’s ballroom culture drama Pose – told the same publication that she also felt let down by a writer who’d previously offered her an escape. She said, “It’s so hurtful but also I’m not surprised by it.” Molly Roberts from the Washington Post went even further that month, arguing, “J.K. Rowling’s transphobia shows it’s time to put down the pen.”
One British school even abandoned its plans to honor Rowling by naming a house after the author. Sarah Edwards – a deputy headteacher at West Sussex’s The Weald School – told parents in a letter that the writer “may in fact no longer be an appropriate role model.” Edwards also claimed that Rowling’s comments about trans rights went against the school’s inclusivity ethos.
However, Rowling did have her defenders, too. The feminist blogger Claire Heuchan revealed she had “a whole new level of respect for her courage and compassion.” Furthermore, the University of Sussex’s professor of philosophy Dr. Kathleen Stock told the BBC in June 2020 that the author was “right to want to protect women-only spaces.”
The 1980s hitmaker Alison Moyet also leapt to Rowling’s defence, tweeting, “Regardless [of] how I feel about anything, I always hated a pile on since schooldays. Even against those that’ve been hateful to me. As it happens J.K. Rowling is not hateful. I see a woman convicted and hung and wonder where the same venom is for the men that do actual harm to all womankind.”
Meanwhile, Warner Bros. – the home of the Harry Potter movie franchise – took something of a neutral stance. An official statement from the studio read, “We deeply value the work of our storytellers who give so much of themselves in sharing their creations with us all. We recognize our responsibility to foster empathy and advocate understanding of all communities and all people – particularly those we work with and those we reach through our content.”
Of course, most Harry Potter fans were far more interested in what the films’ main cast members had to say about the whole controversy. And if Rowling was expecting any support from the stars who she helped launch to fame, she would have been left sorely disappointed. For all of the main stars subsequently took to Twitter to voice their solidarity for the trans movement.
The actor who played Harry Potter himself was the first to address Rowling’s initial tweets on the issue. In an official statement released in conjunction with the Trevor Project – a charity aimed at preventing suicide within the LGBTQ community – Daniel Radcliffe acknowledged how important the author had been to his career. However, he also stated that he felt “compelled to say something at this moment.”
Radcliffe said, “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 [J.K. Rowling] or I. It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and non-binary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.”
Radcliffe referenced statistics from the Trevor Project which reported that 78 percent of non-binary and transgendered youths have suffered discrimination as a direct result of their gender identity. The actor then addressed those who had grown up reading Harry Potter. He said, “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.”
For his part, Radcliffe is a long-time supporter of LGBTQ rights. And he concluded his heartfelt statement, “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.”
Shortly after Rowling uploaded her lengthy blog post on the issue, the actress best known as Hermione Granger also took to Twitter to speak out. And perhaps unsurprisingly, she didn’t agree with the author at all. Emma Watson told her near-30 million followers, “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.”
Watson continued, “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.” The actress went on to reference Mama Cash and Mermaids – two trans charities she donates to – and asked her followers to give them some support. Incredibly, Watson’s messages amassed 1.2 million likes within half a day.
And this wasn’t the first time that Watson had lent her support to the trans rights movement. In 2018 the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador posted a selfie on Instagram in which she sported a t-shirt emblazoned with “Trans Rights are Human Rights.” But what did her other main Harry Potter co-star make of all the furore?
Rupert Grint – aka Ron Weasley – was the last of the three Harry Potter leads to make his voice heard. And he also echoed the sentiments of his co-stars Watson and Radcliffe. In a statement released via The Times in June 2020, Grint said, “I firmly stand with the trans community and echo the sentiments expressed by many of my peers.”
Grint – who had just become a father for the first time following the birth of his daughter – went on to add, “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. We should all be entitled to live with love and without judgement.” However, Grint, Radcliffe and Watson weren’t the only Harry Potter stars to profess their support for the trans rights movement.
Eddie Redmayne took the lead in the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And the actor also released a statement confirming that he vehemently opposed Rowling’s comments. He said in June 2020, “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.”
An Academy Award nominee for his performance in The Danish Girl as a trans female, Redmayne added, “Trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid. I would never want to speak on behalf of the community but I 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.”
Elsewhere, Bonnie Wright – who portrayed Ginny Weasley in the hugely popular film adaptations of the Hogwarts tales – offered her own thoughts. She tweeted, “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.”
Luna Lovegood actress Evanna Lynch from the Harry Potter movie series admitted that she’d initially wanted to refrain from responding to Rowling’s comments. The actress believed at first that addressing such an issue on Twitter was “impossible.” However, after recognizing how upset some fans were, she decided it was time to speak out.
Lynch wrote, “I imagine that being trans and learning to accept and love yourself is challenging enough, and we as a society should not be adding to that pain. Feeling like you don’t fit in or aren’t accepted for who you are are the worst, most lonely feelings a human can experience. And I won’t be helping to marginalize trans women and men further.”
And Chris Rankin – who played Percy Weasley in the franchise – proved that the Harry Potter cast were in unison on the subject. He tweeted, “My beautiful, brave, strong, trans friends and house of #ChrisNess family. We love you. I can’t say it enough. You’re wonderful, and deserve to be treated as such. Please know that. Be proud of who you are. We are proud of you.”
However, there’s also been something of a backlash against the backlash. Several of the Harry Potter movie stars who spoke out against Rowling’s controversial comments were also criticized themselves by fans of the author. And Watson and Wright in particular bore the brunt due to the timing of their responses.
Referring to Watson, one disgruntled Twitter user posted, “I’ve never seen someone bite the hand that fed them so callously. She just disclosed her sexual assault and this is your response. Your ‘feminism’ is back to front. It’s a joke.” Two other equally outspoken individuals also took to the same social media platform to berate Wright for her comments. One wrote, “‘You clearly haven’t read [J.K. Rowling’s] essay,’” while another argued, “You would have been nothing without her. Shame on you.”
Nevertheless, the Harry Potter cast also received plenty of praise from fans for speaking out against the author. Jake – a huge fan and social media manager for trans charity Mermaids – revealed in a blog post how heartened he was by their responses. He wrote, “To Emma [Watson], Daniel [Radcliffe], Eddie [Redmayne], Evanna [Lynch], Chris [Rankin] and the rest of the cast who are coming forward, you are keeping the magic alive.”
Jake continued, “J.K. Rowling can stomp on my Harry Potter glasses, but you’ve all cast the reparo. Because of you, I refuse to gather up my hoard of Harry Potter merchandise. I refuse to stop reading fan fiction, and I absolutely refuse to allow something so wonderful to be ruined by someone who doesn’t get me.”