RECAP — Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling called out for trans comments

Myah Elliott
Story by Myah Elliott • CBC Kids News • Published 2020-06-12 18:12

The famous author stands firm in her convictions

Magic was lost this week for some members of the trans community after Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling went on a Twitter rant.

The comments were not about wizards and witches, as you might come to expect, but of sex and gender.

The RECAP squad has been watching this story and it had sidekicks Veena Yamano and Sean Tran ready to talk about the controversy with host Myah Elliot.

So what happened?

On June 6, Rowling took to Twitter to talk about women and the trans community.

The trans community is made up of people who feel their sex (physical body parts) don’t match with their gender (how they feel inside).

Rowling took issue with an article that used the phrase “people” who menstruate, as opposed to just women.

Some pointed out that there are people who menstruate who don’t identify as women.

It’s complicated, but it comes down to a larger conversation about sex and gender.

J.K. Rowling’s comments poorly timed, say some

Rowling was quickly called out online for her insensitivity and what some were calling anti-trans ideas.

And her words came at a critical time for LGBT people — during Pride month.

Others called out Rowling for lacking the justice, imagination and acceptance seen in so many of her books.

J.K. Rowling publishes essay

Despite the heated social media debate, the author continued tweeting on the subject of trans people.

On June 10, she published a 3,600-word essay responding to the criticism and repeating her beliefs on gender identity.

She said that trans people ‘need and deserve protection’ without putting women at risk.

"I stand alongside the brave women and men, gay, straight and trans, who’re standing up for freedom of speech and thought, and for the rights and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society: young gay kids, fragile teenagers, and women who’re reliant on and wish to retain their single sex spaces," she said.

Rowling asked for ‘empathy’ from those who have called out her comments. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Rowling’s comments are ‘dangerous,’ says expert

According to Ann Travers, a sociology professor at Simon Fraser University, J.K. Rowling’s comments are troubling, especially to trans youth.

“A lot of people are just very ignorant about issues regarding trans people of all ages,” Travers told CBC Kids News.

“But for someone who is so well known, and such a big voice in children and youth literature to make anti-trans statements is really dangerous.”

Travers went on to say that Rowling is spreading misinformation about the trans community.

Rowling's words suggest that being trans is something other than a “normal, healthy gender variation,” they said. 

According to Kids Help Phone, trans youth feeling comfortable in expressing their gender identity is crucial for their overall mental health and well-being.

More than 11 million copies of the Harry Potter series have been sold in Canada. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

There are those who stand with J.K. Rowling

On the other hand, a new hashtag was formed in support of Rowling’s words, #IStandWithJKRowling.

Harry Potter film cast speaks out

Stars from the Harry Potter film franchise, Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry Potter, and Emma Watson, who was Hermione Granger, spoke out against the author.

Radcliffe wrote his own essay for The Trevor Project on the topic, stating, “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.”

Watson tweeted out her support for the trans community and promoted trans charities.

But Harry Potter books champion the underdog

Travers said they worry for trans youth who may have related to Harry Potter’s story and admired Rowling’s writing.

“The whole story is about how special Harry really is and how oppressive and destructive the Dursleys are because they don't see him. Harry Potter is a perfect parallel for trans kids. Most trans kids are invisible because they know they'll be living in a cupboard under the stairs if they announce themselves,” they said.

Travers said there are parallels between trans kids and Harry Potter. (Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

And for Travers, they remind us that unlearning racist, sexist, anti-gay and anti-trans attitudes is a process.

“Be suspicious of messages that preach hate of any category. In order to be part of the solution rather than the problem, we have to do our own work to unlearn some of those negative attitudes.”

What do you think? Be sure to catch up on the latest episode of RECAP and have your say below. 

Top Image and Graphics: Allison Cake/CBC

Clarification: CBC Kids News updated this story on June 26 to reflect more of J.K. Rowling’s essay and achieve better balance in the story. We also took the opportunity to address our coverage in this follow-up episode of RECAP.

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About the Contributor

Myah Elliott
Myah Elliott
RECAP Host
Myah Elliott is the host of RECAP, a weekly video roundup of buzzed-about news and pop culture that is powered by CBC Kids News. She’s one of the biggest movie fans you’ll ever meet and she also loves music. You won’t catch Myah relaxing too often because she’s on a gap year and fills her time with a part-time job, thrifting, TikToking and learning all she can about marketing and social media. Episodes of #CBCRECAP are uploaded right here every Friday and are also on CBC TV and CBC Gem on Saturdays.