explainer

Explained: Why people are calling for J.K. Rowling's new book to be pulled from the shelves.

J.K. Rowling's new novel, Troubled Blood, is one of the highest-selling books in the world right now. It's at the top of the charts in Australia and the UK, and it holds the number-three spot on the coveted New York Times best-seller list.

But there's a vocal contingent of critics arguing that it should be pulled from the shelves.

Why is J.K. Rowling's new book controversial?

Troubled Blood is the fifth in the Cormoran Strike series of detective novels written by Rowling under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

The issue of contention with this particular book is that it features a male serial killer who dresses in women's clothing. Which, in the context of Rowling's recent comments about transgender people, has been interpreted by some as another slight at those who don't conform to a gender binary.

Watch: Just some of the ignorance trans people face in the dating world.


Video via Mamamia.

Several independent retailers have refused to stock the book.

Among them is Australian outlet Secret Book Stuff, the owners of which told Mamamia Out Loud, "If bookshops publicly choosing not to stock J.K.'s new book means that a little trans kid can walk past or walk inside and feel like it's another safe space for them to be, then that's the ultimate allyship in our eyes and it's all that matters".

Remind me what J.K. Rowling has said about trans identity.

Just a matter of years ago, J.K. Rowling was perhaps the world's most beloved children's author; the creator of the magical world of Harry Potter into which millions of children had escaped.

But from roughly 2017 onward, the Brit alienated many by leaving social media breadcrumbs that hinted at her conservative stance on gender identity.

That year, she hit the 'like' button on a tweet directing to a Medium article that claimed cisgender women are scared of sharing female-designated spaces with trans women.

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In 2019, she tweeted her support for Maya Forstater, a British woman who was sacked for tweeting anti-trans statements, including "men cannot change into women".

And on June 7 this year, she retweeted an article to her 14.5 million followers titled, "Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate". 

"'People who menstruate,'" she commented. "I'm sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?"

The comment, in the eyes of many trans people and advocates, entirely erased the experience of trans men. As one tweeted, "Not all women menstruate and not all who menstruate are women. There are many girls, non-binary folx, trans boys, and trans men who also get a period."

Image: Twitter.

Later that month, Rowling attempted to explain her position on trans identity in a lengthy essay, which she published to her website. But it only served to stoke the controversy.

In the 3600-word piece, Rowling accused the trans rights movement of doing "demonstrable harm in seeking to erode 'woman' as a political and biological class" and of "offering cover to predators like few before it".

She also confirmed her opposition to trans women accessing female-designated spaces due to a perceived risk that cis men will exploit the opportunity to assault those inside: "When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman... then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside."

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She also appeared to conflate the gender dysphoria experienced by trans people with her own desire to be accepted by her peers and family: "I struggled with severe OCD as a teenager. If I’d found community and sympathy online that I couldn’t find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred".  

You can read the essay in full here.

So, should Troubled Blood be pulled from the shelves?: Each side of the debate.

Those who argue 'Yes' may say....

By portraying cross-dressing as the quirk of a murderous villain, Rowling has penned a damaging portrayal of people who exist outside a gender binary. 

It appears to be part of a pattern. Consider her recent comments undermining the experience of trans people. Consider the fact that her second 'Cormoran Strike' novel featured a trans character whom she labelled "unstable and aggressive". And now, consider the message sent by a dangerous, duplicitous deviant dressing in women's clothes (as one reviewer for The Telegraph put it, the moral of the book seems to be "never trust a man in a dress").

Representations like these stoke ignorance and prejudice and are hurtful to an already marginalised community.

Those who argue 'No' may say...

Troubled Blood isn't harmful on its own. It doesn't contain hate speech nor incite violence, and the supposedly contentious character is not transgender — as one Washington Post journalist put it, "Mostly, he’s a red herring".

The opposition to this book stems from the opposition to its author. Fans feel betrayed that the person behind the "everyone is welcome at Hogwarts" ethos holds certain intolerant ideas.

Pulling the book from the shelves therefore suggests that because Rowling has opinions contrary to the norm, her work should not be given a platform. That is intolerant, and that is censorship.

How has Rowling responded to the backlash?

While she hasn't addressed the backlash to Troubled Blood explicitly, Rowling last week tweeted a photograph of a t-shirt, writing, "Sometimes a t-shirt just speaks to you".

The slogan across the front?

"This witch doesn't burn."

Feature image: Getty.

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