As this hell year trudges forward, J.K. Rowling continues to disappoint Harry Potter fans. For some reason, at a time when the world is suffering from a global pandemic, climate change, anti-Black racism, voter suppression, extreme inequality, and a ton of other things making life worse for millions of people, the formerly low-profile billionaire has taken aim at trans people, again.
But on Monday, we learned that she has more transphobia to unleash. Her newest book Troubled Blood, which comes out Tuesday, is her fifth published under the pen name Robert Galbraith. (Clearly, she believes she’s entitled to be flexible with gender when it comes to her writing, but doesn’t extend that right to people whose true gender identity is different than the one assigned to them at birth.) Its plot, according to The Telegraph, involves an investigation into a decades-old cold case involving “a transvestite serial killer.”
“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,” the review says.
Well-worn trope of “violent trans woman” is highly unrealistic
As the outdated language might suggest, the “transvestite serial killer” is an old trope about “men who want to be women,” and one that’s entirely divorced from real trans experiences. One of the most famous examples is “The Silence of The Lambs,” where fictional serial killer Buffalo Bill, who wants to live as a woman, kills and skins women to make a “woman suit.”
In a 2019 piece, Quartz wrote that the character inadvertently served as a blueprint for what would become trans-exclusionary radical feminism.
“There’s a zero-sum mindset in both, in which trans women are accused of somehow erasing the experiences of other women — just as Buffalo Bill has to murder women to fully inhabit the identity he wants,” the piece says.
The film also supposes that trans women retain “biologically male” traits, like aggression and violence. That falsity is also shared by Rowling.
There’s a trans character named Pippa in Rowling’s book The Silkworm, who’s described as “unstable and aggressive,” according to Katelyn Burns, a trans author writing for Them. Burns quotes one section of the book, when Pippa tries to escape the hero detective: ”‘If you go for that door one more time I’m calling the police and I’ll testify and be glad to watch you go down for attempted murder. And it won’t be fun for you Pippa,’ he added. ‘Not pre-op.’”
It’s “an entirely common though insulting trope about trans women,” Burns writes, “that they are aggressive and unable to overcome their masculine nature, not to mention villainous — that has become all too common from cisgender authors with only a passing knowledge of trans people.”
The less salacious and much more boring truth about murder is that if we did want to “protect” women by blocking their access to the people who pose the biggest threat to their lives, we would be protecting women from straight cisgender men.
There are a number of real-life serial killers who inspired Buffalo Bill, for instance, including Ed Gein, Gary Heidnik, Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgway. All of them killed women in real life, and none of them identified as women in any way. One, Jerry Brudos, would sometimes wear the shoes he stole from women after he killed them — hardly the same as dressing up as a way to lure women, and certainly not a trans identity.
According to a U.N. report, the vast majority of murders worldwide are committed by men. More than half of murdered women are killed by intimate partners — meaning a current romantic partner or spouse, or former partner. In Canada, a woman is killed by an intimate partner every six days.
“The death of those killed by intimate partners does not usually result from random or spontaneous acts, but rather from the culmination of prior gender-related violence,” the report states.
The idea that transgender women are simply “pretending” in order to gain access to women’s bathrooms or other female spaces for nefarious purposes is a common refrain from the anti-trans crowd. But in addition to being totally out of line with what trans women actually experience, there’s simply no evidence that this is something that occurs with any regularity.
What’s much more common is for cis men to enter women’s spaces — something that historically, they’ve felt pretty comfortable doing without a “disguise.” In 2005, for instance, U.S. President Donald Trump told Howard Stern that’s he “allowed” to go backstage at the Miss Teen USA beauty pageant because he’s the pageant’s owner.
“You know they’re standing there with no clothes ... and you see these incredible looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that,” he said.
It’s perhaps also worth noting that a large part of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second installation in the series, features Harry and Ron, both cis males, spending time making Polyjuice Potion in the girl’s bathroom.
Trans people are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators
While there’s no discernible pattern of trans people perpetrating violence, the disturbing reality is that they’re actually victims of violence at alarming rates. Gender identity and expression weren’t enshrined in the Canadian Human Rights act until 2016. The vast majority of transgender youth in Canada — 70 per cent — have experienced discrimination on the basis of their gender identity, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
At least 28 people in the U.S. were killed for being transgender or gender-nonconforming in 2019, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Most of them were Black trans women.
“Some of these cases involve clear anti-transgender bias,” the report states. “In others, the victim’s transgender status may have put them at risk in other ways, such as forcing them into unemployment, poverty, homelessness and/or survival sex work.”
Watch: Trans people who have discriminated against are honoured on Transgender Day of Remembrance. Story continues after video.
The reality of trans people’s lives is that while there’s a lot of joy to be found in community, they also face discrimination and the threat of violence just in living their lives from day to day. It’s harder for trans people to find jobs and housing, to access healthcare, or simply be treated with kindness and respect. And these barriers get bigger and harder to surpass for trans person who are also people of colour, disabled, or sex workers.
Trans people deserve respect, protection, and access to resources. The very least J.K. Rowling could do is stop villainizing them.