J.K. Rowling accused of transphobia after mocking 'people who menstruate' headline

Twitter users claimed that Rowling's tweet was not only exclusionary to transgender people but also to cisgender women who don't have periods.
Image: J.K. Rowling at a film premiere in London in 2018.
J.K. Rowling at a film premiere in London in 2018.Joel C Ryan / AP file
By Doha Madani

“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling trended on Twitter Saturday after critics accused her of transphobia for mocking a headline about “people who menstruate."

Rowling, who has been accused of transphobia for years, posted an opinion article about creating equality for “people who menstruate” following the coronavirus pandemic from Devex, a website that describes itself as a media platform for the global development community.

“‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” Rowling tweeted.

Twitter users quickly hit back at Rowling, noting that her tweet was not only exclusionary to transgender men and women but also to cisgender women who no longer menstruate. Though critics ranged in age, there were many who noted their disappointment in Rowling after years of admiring her and the tolerant message of “Harry Potter.

“I decided not to kill myself because I wanted to know how Harry's story ended,” one user wrote. “For a long time, that was all that kept me alive. Until I met my husband who helped me learn to love myself and to want to live. You just insulted him to my face. I hate you.”

Celebrities also took aim at Rowling for choosing to use her platform to resist the use of non-gendered language that exclude transgender, and also non-binary, individuals. "Same Love" singer Mary Lambert called Rowling’s tweet “disgusting” and said that by pushing for such exclusionary language “you make their lives infinitely more difficult.”

“You have power and influence. Why would you do this? What does it achieve?” Lambert tweeted. “Do you feel like more of a woman when you punch down? Are you threatened? Some trans men menstruate. Why does that affect you? Why do you want to police that?”

Kim Petras tweeted at Rowling, telling the author to “read the room” and post about Black Lives Matter instead.

“how is this the right time to go off on this?” Petras tweeted.

GLAAD, a non-profit dedicated to LGBTQ issues, denounced Rowling's tweets on their own Twitter account Saturday.

"JK Rowling continues to align herself with an ideology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans," the organization wrote. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people."

Rowling responded to her critics in a subsequent Twitter thread, claiming that “erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.”

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them,” Rowling replied. “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.”

Transgender people regularly face job discrimination and healthcare discrimination. President Donald Trump’s administration filed a brief last year with the Supreme Court arguing that transgender workers are not protected by federal civil rights law and can be fired because of their gender identity.

Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are also murdered at such a global scale that Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 to honor their deaths.

Rowling has previously been accused of promoting transphobic ideas on social media and is sometimes referred to as a “TERF,” or a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. In 2017, Rowling was called out for liking a tweet that linked to a transphobic Medium article. She was later accused of transphobia after liking a tweet that referred to trans women as "men in dresses," although her spokesperson claimed at the time that Rowling had swiped the "like" button by accident.

In December, Rowling tweeted her support of Maya Forstater, a British researcher who lost her job at a nonprofit think tank following a series of tweets that were criticized as transphobic. A judge ruled against a complaint filed by Forstater against her former employer, stating that Forstater's speech violated the "dignity" of transgender people and was not protected under U.K. law.

"Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who'll have you," Rowling tweeted with the #IStandWithMaya. "Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?"

Rowling has been praised in the past for her support of the LGBTQ community, notably in her revealing that one of the most central “Harry Potter” characters, headmaster Albus Dumbledore, was gay. But others have felt that Rowling’s support has not gone far enough, noting that neither the film nor book franchises were open about the character’s sexuality.