Life

How a Single Tweet Undermined J.K. Rowling’s Relationship With the LGBTQ Community

J.K. Rowling stands behind a podium wearing a blue dress.
Rowling’s comments come less than a week after the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization honored her with an award for demonstrating a commitment to justice.
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

This post is part of Outward, Slate’s home for coverage of LGBTQ life, thought, and culture. Read more here.

J.K. Rowling spent Thursday once again demonstrating a perplexing inability to pipe down and enjoy her millions. This time, the Harry Potter author wasn’t retconning diversity into the series she finished writing over 12 years ago or disclosing that before indoor plumbing, the wizards of her universe used to just poop themselves and magically vanish the evidence away. Instead, Rowling tweeted her support for Maya Forstater, a tax expert whose firing from a think tank over transphobic comments and subsequent court battle has generated a great deal of controversy in the U.K. In so doing, Rowling seemed to align herself with a virulently anti-trans group of otherwise liberal women, most often referred to as trans exclusionary radical feminists or TERFs.

“Dress however you please,” Rowling wrote in a tweet. “Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill.”

Rowling’s tweet was immediately met with disappointment and anger, with critics pointing out that she fundamentally misrepresented the Forstater case. Forstater’s contract with the Center for Global Development was not renewed due to a series of transphobic comments made in multiple forums. She repeatedly tweeted statements like, “I think that male people are not women. I don’t think being a woman/female is a matter of identity or womanly feelings. It is biology.” In a workplace Slack she wrote, “But if people find the basic biological truths that ‘women are adult human females’ or ‘transwomen are male’ offensive, then they will be offended.” Forstater also purposefully misgendered a nonbinary councilor on Twitter, and when they complained, she wrote, “I reserve the right to use the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’ to refer to male people. While I may choose to use alternative pronouns as a courtesy, no one has the right to compel others to make statements they do not believe.”

In a suit filed against her former employer, Forstater claimed that her contract nonrenewal was unjust and that her opinions should be protected, as they were necessary for a “free and open” debate. The employment judge presiding over her case didn’t agree, writing that Forstater’s views did “not have the protected characteristic of philosophical belief.” In a 40-page decision released Wednesday night, the judge stated that Forstater is “absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

Rowling’s support of Forstater and apparent endorsement of her anti-trans views isn’t as surprising as it might seem at first glance. As Katelyn Burns noted in a March 2018 them.
article, Rowling has liked tweets that refer to trans women as “men in dresses” and arguably trafficked in anti-trans tropes in books she wrote under her pen name Robert Galbraith. Thursday’s tweet was her most overt example of transphobia to date and demonstrates that, despite previously positioning herself as an ally, Rowling cannot be considered a friend of the LGBTQ community.