Over the course of 2020, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has delivered a masterclass in how to ruin a previously sparkling reputation.
In June, she tweeted a number of comments that were rightly criticized as “cruel” and “anti-trans” by gay rights organizations, with many of the stars of the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series publicly disagreeing with her and expressing their support for trans people. In response to the furore, Rowling published a 3,600-word essay on her website that regurgitated a load of discredited TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) nonsense, further dismaying her fans.
Since then, she’s faced a barrage of criticism, which led to her returning the prized Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award after the president of the organization dubbed her stance “deeply troubling and transphobic.” All that’s now the backdrop for Troubled Blood, the fifth instalment in the Cormoran Strike book series that Rowling writes under the pen name of Robert Galbraith (which is, uh, also the name of the psychiatrist who pioneered gay conversion therapy).
The villain of her new book is a “transvestite serial killer” who fetishizes women’s clothing and disguises himself as a woman to abduct and murder people. These themes prompted an early review in The Telegraph to comment: “One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress.”
Trans activist Paris Lees hit back, tweeting:
“JK Rowling’s new book’s about a ‘transvestite serial killer’. Meanwhile over in the real world the number of trans people killed in Brazil has risen by 70 per cent this past year, young trans women are left to burn in cars and men who kill us (for being trans) are pardoned and sent home. .. I know a lot of you who follow me probably share some of the fears around the myth about ‘men who dress up as women to hurt women’. If I wasn’t trans I suspect I would too. But I ask you to look inside your heart and question what is really happening here.”
Another former fan, meanwhile, seems to have given up hope, saying:
“JK Rowling could have just… not done all of this and her trans fans (there are lots) would have continued to support her. I’m glad she’s being honest about it. You really can’t write a 900 page transphobic fantasy and then say, ‘I’m not transphobic.’”
Other commentators have drawn attention to Rowling’s previous Cormoran Strike books. In The Silkworm, the hero detective is being stalked by someone who reveals themselves to be a trans woman (with the author taking particular care to describe her Adam’s apple and hands). The detective also uses the threat of rape to intimidate her, saying prison “won’t be fun for you.… Not pre-op.” Yikes.
Whether any of this will have a commercial impact remains to be seen. Fantastic Beasts 3 is set to go before the cameras in 2021 and there are still rumors about a movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. But change might be in the air, with the developers of a Wizarding World video game touting the author not being involved as a selling point.
J.K. Rowling‘s reputation is probably too ruined to salvage now, but maybe Harry Potter can still continue without her?