J.K. Rowling’s latest installment in her Cormoran Strike mystery series, “The Ink Black Heart,” which recently published under her very public pseudonym Robert Galbraith, coincidentally centers around a public figure who gets canceled for being a transphobe (the poor thing even ends up getting murdered). The character, Edie Ledwell, a well-known cartoonist, gets persecuted by former-fans-turned-vicious-trolls who also, coincidentally, accuse her of being racist and ableist.
It is the final nail in the coffin (we hope) of Rowling’s transphobic legacy.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. For anyone who has managed to miss it, Rowling has a long history of public transphobia, over which former fans have canceled her — many, many times. “The Ink Black Heart,” mimetic of her experience, appears to be her attempt to paint people like her as victims against a bloodthirsty mob of trans activists, who threaten the morally upstanding Ledwell. One of her online harassers murders her, though readers are left wondering for most of the book what ideologically drives her killer to such lengths. It is the final nail in the coffin (we hope) of Rowling’s transphobic legacy.
What’s more, the book reveals how blithely unaware Rowling is: One of the most influential and wealthy people in the world, a cisgender white woman, sees herself as the victim of the minoritized community she has targeted, a community that doesn’t have nearly the same platform or reach she has. Her sense of victimhood is the icing on the bigoted and unpalatable cake.
Fans started to suspect Rowling’s unsavory attitudes toward trans people in 2018 when she liked a tweet that described trans women as “men in dresses.” After her fans rebuked that support of transphobia, PinkNews quoted her spokesperson saying, “I’m afraid J.K. Rowling had a clumsy and middle-aged moment and this is not the first time she has favourited by holding her phone incorrectly.”
But, alas, in 2019, Rowling tweeted her support for an anti-trans woman in the U.K. embroiled in an employment lawsuit. A tribunal described the woman’s views as “incompatible with human dignity.” That same year, Rowling started following YouTuber Magdalen Berns, a vocal transphobe, on Twitter. Berns’ video titles include “There is no such thing as a lesbian with a penis,” “Gender is NOT a social construct” and “Non binary bullsh-t,” according to PinkNews. As a transgender nonbinary lesbian (oh, my God — we’re real!), I take particular issue with Berns, whom Rowling attempted to vindicate in her 2020 essay defending their views. The essay was widely crowned her transphobic pièce de résistance, at least until “The Ink Black Heart” hit stands Aug. 30.
As “Magdalen was a great believer in the importance of biological sex, and didn’t believe lesbians should be called bigots for not dating trans women with penises, dots were joined in the heads of twitter trans activists, and the level of social media abuse increased,” Rowling wrote then. “I expected the threats of violence, to be told I was literally killing trans people with my hate, to be called c--- and b---- and, of course, for my books to be burned.”
Fans started to suspect Rowling’s unsavory attitudes toward trans people when she liked a tweet that described trans women as “men in dresses.”
Things escalated from there. “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman,” she tweeted to her roughly 14 million followers in 2021. She included a link to an article about Scottish police allowing apprehended rapists with penises to identify their own gender. The Twitterati did not take kindly to this, and, yet again, Rowling was canceled.
Let us not forget that poorly received open letter, in which she and others attempted to cancel “cancel culture.” Rowling and the roughly 150 other signatories seemed to either not understand or chose to ignore power dynamics and inequities, whereby public figures have reach and influence that the vast majority of others don’t — including, for example, a young trans person who might object to online abuse. With this power, I would argue, comes an even greater responsibility to not target minority communities, especially those already under threat (around 50% of trans youth seriously consider suicide, and hundreds of anti-trans bills have been introduced across the U.S. in 2022 alone).
Which brings us to our persecuted hero, Ledwell. In the book, she posts a YouTube cartoon about a “hermaphrodite worm,” Rolling Stone reported, and it all unravels from there. Angry, bloodthirsty mobs of trans activists threaten her with tweets like, “if u got raped every time u said something dumb u’d be permanently full of cok.” Rowling takes more than 1,200 pages to frame Ledwell as the “true victim.” The trans community and its allies, her book implies, are full of predators — not just “penised individuals” who commit rape — but abusive trolls, some of whom want to see her die.
Rowling had a number of options when the furor first began: She could have apologized for the hurt she caused; she could have seen it as a teachable moment; she could have simply let sleeping dogs lie and not pursued the issue like a dog on a bone. But she has seemingly chosen to devote the rest of her life to dying on this hill.
With her “Harry Potter” series, she created a magical world where misfits coming of age — misfits including LGBTQ youth — found safety and belonging. Instead, she appears hellbent on abandoning that legacy and being remembered for waging a mean-spirited and dangerous war against the transgender community.