Watch CBS News

J.K. Rowling defends herself after accusations of making "anti-trans" comments on Twitter

Gender terminology 101
Gender terminology 101 01:41

J.K. Rowling has issued a statement in response to accusations that she made "anti-trans" and "transphobic" comments on Twitter last weekend, following intense backlash. In the lengthy statement, the "Harry Potter" author defends her most recent comments, discusses her history of controversial opinions about the transgender community, and opens up about a "traumatic" part of her personal past.

"This isn't an easy piece to write, for reasons that will shortly become clear, but I know it's time to explain myself on an issue surrounded by toxicity," the writer began in a statement posted on her website Wednesday. "I write this without any desire to add to that toxicity."

The author noted that she has been receiving "accusations and threats from trans activists" on Twitter for years, including blowback over her support for the researcher Maya Forstater in December. Forstater lost her job and an employment court case in the U.K. due to a series of tweets in which she disputed the gender identity of trans people.

Rowling said she had stepped back from Twitter until recently, when she wanted to share her new children's book "The Ickabog." Upon her return, she said she was immediately called a "TERF," an acronym for a trans-exclusionary radical feminist — an accusation she said has been used to intimidate others. Rowling initially announced her Wednesday statement with a tweet that simply read, "TERF wars."

In the essay, Rowling then elaborated on the five reasons she is "worried about the new trans activism" and why she decided to speak out on the matter. 

The first reason is her concern for the future of the causes she supports, many of which have an emphasis on providing support to women and children. The second is her worries about the "trans rights movement's" impact on education and "safeguarding." And the third concern is defending freedom of speech.

Her final concerns become more personal, however.

In explaining her fourth worry, the author expressed concern about what she calls a "huge explosion in young women wishing to transition" — some of whom, she asserts, later "regret" the move and seek to "detransition." She even pondered if she would have "tried to transition" in her youth if it were an option, due to her struggle with mental health issues and "the sexualised scrutiny and judgement that sets so many girls to war against their bodies in their teens."

"The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge," she writes. "If I'd found community and sympathy online that I couldn't find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he'd have preferred."

Rowling wrote about her concern that teens experiencing gender dysphoria may transition and then "grow out of their dysphoria." She does, however, acknowledge that "transition will be a solution for some gender dysphoric people."

The transgender community you haven't heard of 06:11

Rowling laments that society today is in the "most misogynistic period I've experienced," and cites "trans activists who declare that TERFs need punching and re-educating" as one of the many reasons this is so.

"Everywhere, women are being told to shut up and sit down, or else," Rowling writes. "I've read all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don't have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive." 

She added, "It isn't enough for women to be trans allies. Women must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves."

Her statement echoed the opinion she expressed in her controversial tweets this weekend about sex and gender identity.

On Saturday, the author took issue with the wording of a headline for an opinion article which read, "Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate." The article was written for the outlet Devex.

"'People who menstruate.' I'm sure there used to be a word for those people," Rowling tweeted Saturday. "Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?"

In her new statement, she explained why she took issue with that headline: "The 'inclusive' language that calls female people 'menstruators' and 'people with vulvas' strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning." 

Twitter users, and Harry Potter himself, actor Daniel Radcliffe, swiftly criticized the tweet for appearing to define a woman as a person who has a menstrual period and equivocating one's sex or sex organs with their gender identity

Coronavirus pandemic highlights barriers to health care for transgender community 02:33

In her final point in the essay, Rowling opened up about her experience with domestic abuse and sexual assault, and her "violent" first marriage — a topic she said she has never discussed publicly. She explained, due to that experience, that when she learns of "a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man," she feels "solidarity and kinship."

"Trans people need and deserve protection," Rowling wrote. She added, "Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who've been abused by men."

However, she added that while she wants trans women to be "safe," she does not "want to make natal girls and women less safe." She appeared to specifically criticize Scottish legislation that would make it easier for a person to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity, according to the BBC

"When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he's a woman… then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth," Rowling said, though supporters of the legislation dispute that.

Rowling went on to say that while she faces criticism for speaking her mind on the subject, instead of tweeting "the approved hashtags," she will not stop speaking out on the current movement. 

"I have a complex backstory, which shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions. I never forget that inner complexity when I'm creating a fictional character and I certainly never forget it when it comes to trans people," she concluded."All I'm asking — all I want — is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse."

CBS Reports presents Gender - The Space Between 30:51

The LGBTQ organization GLAAD issued a statement in response to Rowling's essay shortly after it published Wednesday. 

"It seems JK is good at only one thing: writing fantasy. Her misinformed and dangerous missive about transgender people flies in the face of medical and psychological experts and devalues trans people accounts of their own lives," a GLAAD spokesperson told CBS News. "And to all the trans and cisgender youth raised on her books who are now loudly speaking up in support of the trans people you know and love, you are the future and we can't wait to read and watch the beautiful art you will create."

The organization also spoke out about Rowling's initial tweets this weekend on Twitter, calling her comments "anti-trans" and encouraging its followers to channel their "rightful anger" by supporting organizations that help black trans people. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.