“Monty Python” actor John Cleese is being accused of transphobia following a series of tweets in which he defended “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.
In June, Rowling made headlines for stating that she believes one’s biological sex is their “real sex” and criticizing transgender people for “erasing the concept of sex.” In September, Cleese signed a letter showing his solidarity with Rowling.
On Sunday morning, a Twitter user asked Cleese about his stance on Rowling’s views. Cleese wrote: “I’m afraid I’m not that interested in trans folks. I just hope they’re happy and that people treat them kindly. Right now I’m more focussed [sic] on threats to democracy in America, the rampant corruption in the UK, the appalling British press, the revelations about police brutality…”
When another user asked Cleese, “Why the fuck can’t you just let people be who they want to be?” he responded with, “Deep down, I want to be a Cambodian police woman. Is that allowed, or am I being unrealistic?”
One user pointed out Cleese’s “superficial understanding” of the topic. Cleese replied: “Yes, my understanding is superficial. One thing: When a woman who was once a man is competing against women who have always been women, I think she has an advantage, because she inherited a man’s body, which is usually bigger and stronger than a woman’s. Does that prove phobia?”
A representative for Cleese did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
Cleese received ample backlash for his tweets, with users calling them transphobic. “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness pointed out the violence that can result from transphobic behavior: “Dear @JohnCleese you’ve made several transphobic comments here. You do seem to not only be interested in trans folks, but also adding to transphobia at a time when trans people are being murdered world wide. Trans & non binary people aren’t being treated kindly.”
In a later tweet, Van Ness called out both Rowling and Cleese, writing: “Try being a trans, non binary, or gender nonconforming person especially Black & Brown ones, ALONE in a rural town or ANYWHERE in the world. The @jk_rowling & @JohnCleese of the world could never. So cruel to constantly punch down onto a marginalized group of people.”
Former Nine Inch Nails art director Rob Sheridan also reacted to Cleese’s tweets. “I saw John Cleese trending and was bummed to find out why (he’s on the JK Rowling transphobia train),” Sheridan wrote. “It’s wild how often rich white people brains just get absolutely shattered by personal gender issues that have never affected them and likely will never affect them.”