JK Rowling, Harry Potter author and renowned TERF, has been pretty quiet of late, using her Twitter account to promote her various projects and deliver a few courtesy quote retweets from fans instead of carrying on about transgender people threatening womanhood. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.
On Monday, Rowling tweeted a screenshot of a Twitter user wishing her a “nice pipebomb in mailbox.” She added to the screenshot, “To be fair, when you can’t get a woman sacked, arrested or dropped by her publisher, and cancelling her only made her book sales go up, there’s really only one place to go.”
She continued: “Now [that] hundreds of trans activists have threatened to beat, rape, assassinate and bomb me I’ve realised that this movement poses no risk to women whatsoever.”
Death threats are certainly alarming regardless of how they materialize, and they are a distressingly common hazard for women, femmes, and essentially every marginalized person with a large or otherwise public platform. But given the context, an anime avi Twitter user who, as The Times so helpfully pointed out, describes themselves as “genderfluid lesbian and a ‘cybermarxist’” and uses a popular meme format that utilizes Bugs Bunny in a tuxedo, isn’t exactly something that the Very Online would necessarily find directly threatening. Instead of taking the tweet as indicative of the opinions of one anonymous Twitter user, Rowling, a woman with a massive platform, proceeding to depict a shitpost as a representation of the trans “movement.”
But this is exactly what Rowling does.
This fresh deluge of JKR the TERF started last week when a Twitter user posted an image of Rowling and attributed the following quote to her: “I’ve ignored porn tweeted at children.” That was just a snippet of a tweet Rowling posted last summer, at the height of her hard public pivot to terfdom, a move Rowing and her supporters would prefer to call “gender critical”—a term which seeks to make rampant transphobia more reasonable-sounding.
At the time, Rowling was responding to a tweet that accused her of being skeptical of medications used to treat mental disorders. In early July, she tweeted, “I’ve ignored fake tweets attributed to me and RTed widely. I’ve ignored porn tweeted at children on a thread about their art. I’ve ignored death and rape threats. I’m not going to ignore this.” Thus began an 11 part tweet thread clarifying that she only took issue with “young people struggling with their mental health” who are allegedly “being shunted towards hormones and surgery.”
“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 wrote.
The suggestion that children questioning their gender identity are being prescribed hormones and undergoing gender reassignment surgery en masse is preposterous. Rowling’s insistence that hormone treatment for trans people is the same as “conversion therapy” is a well-traversed scare tactic from right-wingers, one that has begun to impact actual laws regarding transgender children in the United States.
But back to the porn bit: Rowling’s TERF pivot last summer also coincided with her promotion of The Ickabog, her first children’s book outside of the Harry Potter universe. She regularly retweeted submissions of children’s illustrations based on the book, and trolls responded with sexually explicit images.
Rowling replied to the contextless quote on Friday, tweeting, “I reported every bit of porn so-called trans allies tweeted into Twitter threads where children were sending me artwork for the Ickabog. I didn’t respond or retweet it because I didn’t want more kids to see it.”
She added: “I’m not sure how these tactics - using porn as a weapon against women you dislike, not caring that children get caught in the crossfire and then misrepresenting what really happened - are supposed to help trans people. Nor do I see how what you’ve done here helps correct the impression that the end game for you & your ilk is to intimidate women out of speaking up for our own rights, no matter how low you have to go to do it.”
We can certainly quibble over how much Rowling needs to be defended from random Twitter users, especially considering the violence associated with her transphobia and the transphobia of her supporters (who haven’t hesitated to defend Rowling with threats of their own). But here’s what’s most glaring about Rowling’s responses: Her insistence on framing this as gendered violence against women, perpetrated by men. Rowling cannot accept that the transgender women who have clowned her, who have told her to “go die,” who have been the loudest critics of her TERF agenda, are women. It’s easier for her to simply dismiss them as men, and regard their anger as male violence directed at her, a “real” woman. It’s a convenient misreading of feminism that positions Rowling as the vulnerable victim of dangerous men.
More than that, it’s a sly way of misgendering that acts as a dog whistle for the many people who celebrate Rowling’s “bravery.” But Rowling’s sex and gender essentialism isn’t brave, it’s the status quo.