The Harry Potter author penned a candid essay: 'I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm.'

By James Hibberd
June 10, 2020 at 03:59 PM EDT
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Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling posted a lengthy and personal new defense of her controversial comments on gender issues on Wednesday.

Writing a 3,800-word essay on her personal website, Rowling said that she's a sexual assault survivor. Although allegations had been previously reported, the author has apparently never confirmed them or spoken about them herself.

"I’ve been in the public eye now for over twenty years and have never talked publicly about being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor," Rowling wrote. "This isn’t because I’m ashamed those things happened to me, but because they’re traumatic to revisit and remember. I also feel protective of my daughter from my first marriage ... I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy, but out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces.

"I managed to escape my first violent marriage with some difficulty, but I’m now married to a truly good and principled man, safe and secure in ways I never in a million years expected to be," Rowling wrote. "However, the scars left by violence and sexual assault don’t disappear, no matter how loved you are, and no matter how much money you’ve made. My perennial jumpiness is a family joke – and even I know it’s funny – but I pray my daughters never have the same reasons I do for hating sudden loud noises, or finding people behind me when I haven’t heard them approaching ... If you could come inside my head and understand what I feel when I read about a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man, you’d find solidarity and kinship. I have a visceral sense of the terror in which those trans women will have spent their last seconds on earth, because I too have known moments of blind fear when I realised that the only thing keeping me alive was the shaky self-restraint of my attacker."

Credit: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

EW was not able to reach Rowling’s first husband for comment on her allegations, but in 2000 he reportedly told London’s Daily Express about kicking Rowlings out of their apartment, dragging her out of the apartment, and engaging in a “violent struggle” in which he “slapped her very hard in the street.”

Rowling’s revelation is likely to be considered controversial as it's wrapped into the author's explanation for her stance on trans issues -- which is, essentially, that biological sex should be considered separate from gender. Rowling positions her argument as a pro-feminist perspective, not anti-trans, but many within the trans community and others call her stance a rejection of trans identity whether she intends it to be or not.

"I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it," Rowling wrote. "I stand alongside the brave women and men, gay, straight and trans, who’re standing up for freedom of speech and thought, and for the rights and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society: young gay kids, fragile teenagers, and women who’re reliant on and wish to retain their single-sex spaces ... I’ve read all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don’t have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive ... Women [are told they] must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves ... But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume."

Rowling also added that she might have been "persuaded" to transition -- while acknowledging that social pressure is widely disputed as a factor in transitioning -- if she were a teenager today.

"The more of their accounts of gender dysphoria I’ve read, with their insightful descriptions of anxiety, dissociation, eating disorders, self-harm and self-hatred, the more I’ve wondered whether, if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition," she wrote. "The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge. 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."

GLAAD’s head of talent Anthony Ramos previously issued a statement on Rowling's stance on the issue: “J.K. Rowling, whose books gave kids hope that they could work together to create a better world, has now aligned herself with an anti-science ideology that denies the basic humanity of people who are transgender. Trans men, trans women, and non-binary people are not a threat, and to imply otherwise puts trans people at risk. Now is the time for allies who know and support trans people to speak up and support their fundamental right to be treated equally and fairly.”

The comments came on the heels of Fantastic Beasts franchise star Eddie Redmayne issuing a statement Wednesday also criticizing the writer's position. "As someone who has worked with both J.K. Rowling and members of the trans community, I wanted to make it absolutely clear where I stand," he wrote. "I disagree with Jo’s comments. Trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid. I would never want to speak on behalf of the community but I do know that my dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities, which all too often results in violence and abuse. They simply want to live their lives peacefully, and it’s time to let them do so.” Harry Potter star Emma Watson also issued a comment on Twitter late Wednesday: "Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are."

In her essay, Rowling likewise made a plea for a cessation of abuse -- except for herself, saying that ever since she commented about trans issues on Twitter last week that she's endured a torrent of hate online.

"I forgot the first rule of Twitter – never, ever expect a nuanced conversation – and reacted to what I felt was degrading language about women," she wrote. "I spoke up about the importance of sex and have been paying the price ever since. [I was told] I was transphobic, I was a c--t, a bitch, a TERF, I deserved cancelling, punching and death. You are Voldemort said one person, clearly feeling this was the only language I’d understand. It would be so much easier to tweet the approved hashtags – because of course trans rights are human rights and of course trans lives matter – scoop up the woke cookies and bask in a virtue-signalling afterglow."

Rowling concluded by emphasizing that she's not trying to garner sympathy with her sexual assault allegation, but rather add context to her position.

"I’ve only mentioned my past because, like every other human being on this planet, I have a complex backstory, which shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions," she wrote. "I never forget that inner complexity when I’m creating a fictional character and I certainly never forget it when it comes to trans people. All I’m asking – all I want – is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse."

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