Home / Opinion / Views /  J.K. Rowling’s lonely struggle to uphold gender realities
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Viewers of the new HBO Max documentary Return to Hogwarts on Amazon Prime, celebrating 20 years of the Harry Potter films, may have noticed something odd—there’s very little of J.K. Rowling. While all the principal actors and the four directors who helmed the eight films speak extensively in the 102-minute movie, Rowling appears only in three or four 10-second clips from an interview she had given in 2019. Though the studio has not given any official explanation, it may be trying to distance itself from the writer who created the Harry Potter universe and was also deeply involved in the films.

Over the last two years, Rowling, one of the most-read British authors of all time, has been branded as more evil than Voldemort by woke activists. There have been relentless efforts to ‘cancel’ her, thousands of rape and death threats on social media—she has joked that she has got so many death threats that she could now paper her walls with them—and calls to publicly burn her books.

To wokes of the world, Rowling is now a ‘TERF’—trans-exclusionary radical feminist—because she disagrees with the ‘progressive’ theory that biological sex—a human being born male or female—is a myth.

In June 2020, she tweeted an article whose headline read, ‘Creating a more equal post-Covid-19 world for people who menstruate’, with this comment: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?" This caused a furore and she was labelled trans-phobic. Responding with a series of tweets, she wrote: “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth… I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so."

But judgement had already been passed. The enraged jury pointed out that there were no transgender characters in the Harry Potter books, no same-sex relationships, and alleged that the names Rowling gave to her Asian (Cho Chang), Irish (Seamus Finnegan), Black (Shacklebolt) and Jewish (Goldstein) characters were “criminally racist". The timid at heart tweeted that they were scared—Potter-world was not a “safe space".

The establishment surrendered quickly. In September, Warner Bros announced that Rowling would not be involved in the development of a new Potter game. Among those who owe their fame and wealth to Rowling, Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry in the films, declared: “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you." Co-stars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint echoed him.

Rowling was undeterred. A debate is currently raging in the West about permitting people who are biologically male but claim to be women into women’s toilets and changing rooms. Wrote Rowling: “I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe", because “you (are opening) the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth." Howls of rage followed.

Last month, she expressed her dismay over a new Scotland Police policy to register rapes as being committed by women if the accused claims to be a woman regardless of whether they have legally changed their gender.

In an allusion to Orwellian doublespeak, Rowling tweeted: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman." This made wokes furious too. In the ensuing din, it almost seemed as if the trauma a rapist may suffer for being mis-gendered should be of much more concern than what the victim may have gone through. Some critics felt that the police not agreeing with a person who violated a woman with a natural-born penis but claims to be a woman is as despicable as a racial slur.

But soon, women’s prisons in Scotland may have to house “women" with male genitalia who have raped women.

The war on Rowling raises a few questions. One, freedom of speech. I may not agree with Rowling, but she has every right to express her opinion. The vicious personal attacks on her are proof of an intolerance that seems to have become a defining feature of identitarian “social justice warriors".

Two, how spineless can people be? Not that the gutsy Rowling has ever asked for any, but there has not been a word of support for her from the many corporates and publishing and cinema professionals that have benefited so much from her work. And not a peep about the rape and death threats and the real physical danger she faces. In September 2020, Twitter even let #RIPJKRowling trend for days in Britain. HBO Max executives may have spent months discussing whether they can fully erase Rowling, and then figuring out how fleeting her fleeting scenes in Return to Hogwarts should be to avoid protests.

Yet, the gender moral police may find that Rowling is un-cancellable—she is too big and her works too beloved. And her courage could inspire many around the world, especially women.

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines

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