Trans people slam J.K. Rowling’s “offensive” new book about a crossdressing serial killer

Article by Eden Gillespie /
SBS The Feed /
September 15, 2020 /
Click here to view original /

‘Troubled Blood’ is the fifth book in J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series, penned under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

It follows a cold case investigation into the disappearance of a woman in 1974, who is suspected to be a victim of a “psychotic” male serial killer who dresses as a woman.

Rowling’s critics were quick to call out the book as the latest example of transphobia by the embattled author.

Her second book in the series, ‘The Silkworm’, has also drawn fury from LGBTIQ+ activists and allies after it labelled a trans character as “unstable and aggressive”.

#RIPJKRowling started trending on Twitter as some pronounced the famous author’s career as dead after a slew of similar controversies.

“I almost appreciate the effort JK Rowling is making to remove any vestige of nuance from our understanding of who she is and how she plans on using her time, energy and fortune,” award-winning poet Saeed Jones wrote on Twitter.

While culture critic Elle Dawson tweeted: “J.K. Rowling is single-mindedly obsessed with trans people and actively frames them as predators in her novels.”

Violent trans tropes

Dr Lauren Rosewarne is a senior lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

She told The Feed there’s “a long history of popular culture demonising people who have a gender or sexuality presentation that differs from what broader society considers “normal”.”

“It is important to flag that people who are trans are far more likely to be the victims of crime than involved in the perpetration of it,” Dr Rosewarne added.

While Gemma Killen, a PhD student and Lecturer of Gender Studies at the Australian National University said Rowling has “perpetuated this myth of the violent trans woman”.

“I think she kind of upholds this idea that trans women are just trying to get into women’s autonomous spaces to harm them,” she told The Feed.

“The tropes about the deceitful and violent trans woman relies on this idea that male biology is inherently violent. I think that that’s a really sad outlook on feminism to take that men will always be violent and they will always be trying to harm women,” she added.

Rowling has a long history of exciting uproar when it comes to trans issues.

In June, she mocked a headline for using gender-inclusive language on Twitter.

“‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?,” she wrote.

A month later, the author compared hormone therapy to LGBT “conversion therapy.”

“Many, myself included, believe we are watching a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people, who are being set on a lifelong path of medicalisation that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function,” Rowling tweeted.

Trans activist Claire Artisine told The Feed that Rowling “has clearly dedicated herself so utterly to the anti-trans cause that it has bled into her work”.

“Her attitude and lack of empathy is typical of the ‘TERF’ [trans exclusionary radical feminist] mindset, which has led some cis women to take militant action against trans people, even to the point of doxxing teenagers on suicide watch.”

While 10 News First reporter and proud trans woman Kate Doak believes Rowling should speak to trans and non-binary people to foster a better understanding of their lived experiences.

“If Rowling has produced a novel which plays upon the old stereotypes of a ‘Man in a Dress’ being a threat, then she’s missed the opportunity to have produced an epic thriller that encompasses what actual Trans people encounter daily, regardless of whether they’re a protagonist or antagonist in a story,” Doak told The Feed.

“With great power comes even greater responsibility, which is something that an author as accomplished as J.K. Rowling should be aware of,” she said.

What are TERFs?

Rowling’s critics have often labelled her as a “TERF”.

According to Dr Rosewarne, TERF stands for Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminist and “is the term used to criticise those feminists who take an essentialist — and biological view — of sex”. 

“Certain feminists in this movement argue that feminists have, for example, fought hard for women’s only spaces and equality only to have their struggles and achievements derailed by — in their view — people who consider sex and gender as something fluid and by those who deem binary understandings of sex and gender as unimportant.”

Dr Rosewarne said the movement is “characterised by a gatekeeping position, determining who does and doesn’t get accepted as a woman and who can and can’t enter certain spaces and be part of certain discussions”.

“Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminists tend to think that there’s a biological truth about gender. So women must be born as women, and you can’t change your gender,” Ms Killen added.

In Ms Killen’s view, it’s simplistic to view gender as something that’s “fixed”.

“When you start to look at it more closely, it’s really actually quite hard to determine what you mean by things. Like ‘do you mean external genitals? Do you mean internal organs? Do you mean hormone levels?’,” she said.

“And there’s lots of instances where those things don’t always neatly line up. I think there are terrible ramifications for young trans people to be subjected to this kind of rhetoric.”

While Dr Roswarne believes people are entitled to their opinion, she said sharing it online is not “without consequences”.

“Airing those views – and causing pain and distress to people by seeming to erase their lived experience – means that there will undoubtedly be a backlash,” she said.

“I think people who find her content objectionable need to vote with their dollars and not continue to buy her work. Other than that, I think she is perfectly entitled to use her platform to air her views just as her detractors can use theirs.”