J.K. Rowling’s views on gender identity continue to ignite controversy on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. After the September release of her most recent novel, Troubled Blood, fifth in the detective series that she writes under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, the conflict between those in the literary world who agree with her views and those who oppose them has intensified, due to Rowling's perpetuating in her fiction what many consider to be negative myths and stereotypes about transgender people.
In Troubled Blood, a rapist/murderer disguises himself as a woman to prey upon his victims. It is a bestseller in the U.K., but, according to news reports, since its release, Rowling has been targeted with criticism and in some cases, abuse on social media. The attacks upon Rowling prompted a group of 58 prominent British authors and other luminaries—including Ian McEwan and Tom Stoppard—to defend her in a letter to the editor published in the Sunday Times on September 27.
“Rowling has consistently shown herself to be an honorable and compassionate person,” the letter states. “If more people stand up against the targeting of women online, we might at least make it less acceptable to engage in it or profit from it.”
In response, a group of British authors, publishing professionals, and journalists led by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Daisy Johnson signed an open letter described as “a message of love and solidarity for the trans and non-binary community” that did not mention Rowling by name, but emphasized the signatories’ support for the “well-being and rights of trans and non-binary people.” While the letter originally contained 200 names, it has since ballooned to 1500 names.
While condemning the online vitriol hurled at Rowling, YA author Juno Dawson, who is transgender and signed the open letter, noted in an email to PW that transgender and non-binary individuals often receive such abuse, and that Rowling’s perpetuation of negative stereotypes about transgender people has “made a bad situation worse” for them.
“The ongoing discourse has been personally difficult for me,” she wrote. “And I'm one of the most privileged transgender women in the U.K. I can't imagine what this painful public conversation has been like for trans young adults or fans of Rowling's work.”
This past weekend, a group of U.S. authors, publishing professionals, and journalists led by author Maureen Johnson, who used to organize the Young Adult track at LeakyCon, the Harry Potter fan convention, have signed a companion letter to the British one. As of this morning, this letter has more than 1,200 names, including Stephen King, Roxane Gay, Neil Gaiman, Angie Thomas, and John Green. And there is at least Canadian author participating: Margaret Atwood signed the petition Friday.
“We are writers, editors, journalists, agents, and professionals in multiple forms of publishing,” the letter declares. “We believe in the power of words. We want to do our part to help shape the curve of history toward justice and fairness.”
“To that end, we say: non-binary people are non-binary, trans women are women, trans men are men, trans rights are human rights. Your pronouns matter.”
“When J.K. got involved in [the debate in the U.K. over transgender rights] it gave a lot of legitimacy to something that before seemed fringey. It became more accepted, because people know J.K. from Harry Potter,” Johnson told PW, explaining that she had organized the U.S. letter because “it’s human decency. Sometimes you need to put your name on the line and say I don’t agree with what’s going on.”
This story has been updated with more information.