J.K. Rowling and the White Supremacist History of “Biological Sex”Roundup
tags: racism, transgender, White Supremacy, LBGTQ history
Kevin Henderson is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is also a student in the program for Feminist Studies. His dissertation, Producing Public Sex, explores histories and political contestations over public sex, policing, and struggles to create queer public sexual community outside of domesticity and coupledom.
J.K. Rowling, British author of the popular Harry Potter series, has gained a large following on her Twitter feed over the last few years because she has been outspoken and pithy about her political views, which usually have a liberal bent. However, Rowling also has a curious Twitter history of defending statements made by others that espouse “biological sex” as real, absolute, and immutable. These statements about biological sex are not made in a vacuum: they are made explicitly to deny transgender people dignity, self-determination, and access to social goods.
J.K. Rowling has decided now is her time to rally against transgender people and trans activism in the name of feminism and, in a move that some readers may find strange, in the name of lesbians. As one of the world’s most popular fiction authors, Rowling’s statements have real consequence. Republican Senator James Lankford recently cited J.K. Rowling’s transphobic statements on the U.S. Senate floor to block consideration of the Equality Act, an important piece of proposed legislation that that, if passed, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include anti-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
While there is never a good time for transphobic statements, Rowling’s timing seems particularly bad when one considers how the world is focused on the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality, racism, and white supremacy. Inspired by the people of Minneapolis who took to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd by police officers, activists across the United States and United Kingdom have produced on-going, transformative protests to stop the murder of people of color by police and the routine policing of Black bodies and to challenge the normalization of white supremacy.
We should not dismiss the debates around Rowling’s tweets as merely a distraction from the important anti-racist work at hand. In fact, Rowling’s transphobic statements are embedded in the history of white supremacy. As many people are engaging in conversations about how white supremacy has shaped so many of our political and social institutions, there is no better time than the present to talk about how “biological sex” and “sexual difference” were created over time to protect, promote, and police the boundaries of whiteness.
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