An analysis of J.K. Rowling’s transphobia

How J.K. Rowling weaponizes white femininity against trans people

In a year of general tragedy, disappointment, and chaos in all regards, I didn’t expect a pillar of my childhood to be destroyed.

This summer, while people across the world were protesting against police brutality and systemic racism, J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, decided to get on Twitter. She mocked a headline which used the phrase “people who menstruate” following up with a tweet about her fear of biological sex being erased.

Rowling received backlash from LGBTQ+ organizations like GLAAD who called her tweets “cruel” and “anti-trans,” and cast members from the Harry Potter franchise criticized Rowling or spoke out in support of trans rights. Rowling did not see the error in her ways, however, nor did she have the wisdom to keep quiet. Instead she wrote a 3,000+ word essay published on her website in response to the criticism where she posits herself as a brave defender of women against radical trans activists.

There’s too much to get into, but there is a great thorough rebuttal and critique of the essay you can read from Mermaids, a gender non-conforming children’s charity.

The comment that struck me most in the essay was when Rowling stated that, “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.” Here, Rowling proves that she is a product of the media she has been exposed to.

This idea partly emanates from a variety of very harmful tropes in media about trans women; that they are “men in dresses” (perpetuated by the casting of cis men as trans women), that they are men dressing as women to get something (Some Like It Hot, Mrs. Doubtfire, White Chicks, Tootsie, etc.), or that they are crazy and violent (The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, Dressed to Kill). With such a historic lack of representation, especially when Rowling was growing up, these types of representation form a lot of negative and incorrect ideas in people’s minds about who a trans person is.

Trans women, particularly trans women of colour, are disproportionately murdered every year. In a survey of trans Americans nearly half said they had been sexually assaulted, and over half had experienced some sort of domestic abuse. There is a correlation between this violence and fears created by these representations.

Representation of trans people as the butt of jokes also dehumanizes them, or portrays them as gross. In Ace Ventura: Pet Detective there is a scene where, after finding out he has kissed a trans woman (or a man depending on how you see it), Jim Carrey as Ventura throws up, induces vomiting, brushes his teeth, scrapes his tongue, and burns his clothes. A similar revelation happens in The Crying Game, in which the male lead hits a trans woman and throws up. When trans women’s killers are actually brought to trial they frequently use what’s known as the “trans panic defence.” This defence attempts to justify the murder by saying that the discovery of someone’s trans identity is that upsetting and shocking. This is an extension of homophobia in many ways because in these cases killers view trans women as “men in dresses.”

If you would like to learn more about the history of trans people in film and television, I’d highly recommend Netflix’s Disclosure, which is executive produced by Laverne Cox.

A lack of, and poor representation, of Black people also shares a history with trans representation.

In early cinema, blackface and crossdressing were often intertwined, as seen in A Florida Enchantment. There is a history of Black men being presented as hypermasculine and aggressive, perhaps seen most notably in D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation where an actor in blackface attempts to rape a white woman.

Conversely, there is also a tradition of emasculating Black men dating back to slavery. Black comedians performing in drag (Tyler Perry as Madea, Jamie Foxx in In Living Color, Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor, Kenan Thompson on Saturday Night Live, etc.) has also become somewhat of a rite of passage.

Actors in blackface crossdressing or Black actors crossdressing is thus an intersection between racism (frequently rooted in the desire to laugh at Black people), misogynoir (asexualizing Black women, presenting them as masculine, aggressive, unattractive and other offensive stereotypes), homophobia, and transphobia.

Just as trans people are regularly murdered based on the notion that they are predators, Black people (particularly men) have been murdered based on the idea that they are dangerous, particularly to white women. Racism and sexism are both at play here because the “damsel in distress” is always a white woman, isn’t she?

In the Post Civil War era, white supremacists and politicians created racial fear amongst white people by frequently using the fear of rape of white women. So you can see how harmful Birth of a Nation was (also because it romanticized the KKK, leading to its rebirth). The consequences of these fears is perhaps epitomized by the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, after he allegedly flirted with a white woman.

As Mia Brett notes in The Washington Post, “Though built on white privilege, the protection offered to white women against other groups actually serves anti-feminist goals of infantilizing women and using their safety as justification to enact bigoted violence. In cases where women’s safety cannot be easily weaponized against a Black, immigrant or trans person, the figure of the damsel in distress has evoked little societal response, even if a woman is in genuine danger.”

In many ways not much has changed since Emmett Till’s murder. Just this year, white New Yorker Amy Cooper notoriously called the police on Christian Cooper, a Black birdwatcher who had asked her to put her dog on a leash. Luckily, Christian Cooper made it out alive, but incidents like this frequently escalate to violence. In the video you can watch online, she changes her voice to sound distressed and before she calls 911 she tells Cooper “I’m gonna tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” demonstrating she is knowingly weaponizing her white femininity against him. In fact there are plenty of videos online of hysterical white women calling 911 on Black people for anything from barbecuing at a lake, sleeping in a University common room, to simply being in a Starbucks.

Similar fears and dynamics are at play in Rowling’s fears of “erasing sex” and “letting any man who believes or feels he’s a woman” into women’s bathrooms.

I have to acknowledge my own white womanhood and the history and privilege and power that comes with that. Frequently, white women delude themselves into thinking that they cannot be oppressive to others because they have been oppressed for their gender, and this delusion has negative consequences. Even crying to a Black person about your guilt over racism, a phenomenon dubbed “white woman tears,” is oppressive. It shuts down dialogue, puts the focus on the white woman, and forces POC to comfort her.

We must recognize the sources of our fears when it comes to the “other” and realize that unconscious bias is at play, even for those of us who so desperately don’t want to be racist or transphobic.

Rowling’s latest instance of transphobia comes from her latest novel where the killer is a “transvestite serial killer.” The transphobic media which seems to have shaped Rowling’s views is thus perpetuated by her and so the cycle continues. In August, Rowling returned her Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award after Kerry Kennedy, his daughter, called Rowling’s comments transphobic. Again, Rowling posited herself as a martyr for women’s rights, claiming no award could be as important as following her conscience.

I don’t think Rowling believes herself to be transphobic. In fact, in her essay she says most trans women pose zero threat, acknowledges that trans women of colour are more likely to be affected by violence, and says she wants trans women to be safe. But whether she realizes it or not, she is using and perpetuating stereotypes which harm trans people. Her type of transphobia is more subtle but is just as if not more harmful than outright bigotry. She comes across as reasonable and constructs well-spoken arguments, says she has trans friends and rejects the TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) label, so her arguments will be more palatable to people.

She has deluded herself into believing that she is being wrongfully attacked because of misogyny, that she is the victim of a witch hunt. Maybe she doesn’t have any malicious intent — she says she doesn’t — but she is afraid. And a white cishet woman’s fear can lead to real violence and oppression. Beware this type of white cishet woman and call her out on her bullshit, especially if you are also a white cishet woman.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


Navigating Quebec’s tight-knit art community

Changing the culture of representation for contemporary artists

Benjamin J. Allard, BA Concordia Communication Studies alumnus, former research assistant and Art Matters curator, currently runs Radio Atelier for CIBL 101.5. Radio Atelier a podcast about local artists and current exhibitions in the greater Montreal area, and Quebec at large.

Allard recently put forth a petition, as part of the INVISIBLES group, to highlight his concerns with arts representation in the media. INVISIBLES is specifically asking Radio-Canada to rethink their approaches to coverage of artists and arts events.

The petition, which now holds 10,572 signatures (and counting) is in French, and begins as follows; “we would like to draw your attention to the fact that the coverage of the visual arts on Radio-Canada contravenes your journalistic standards and practices by not respecting the principles of equity, impartiality and integrity.” Its clarity and strong language demand attention.

“INVISIBLES is an umbrella organization for people and institutions interested in the subject of visual art representation in the media,” said Allard.“It’s super new, they had a meeting in Quebec and we’ll have our first meetings in Montreal [soon].”

The petition has also made headway with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which opened a public platform, from Nov. 25 to Feb. 20, where individuals and collectives had the opportunity to suggest ideas and provide feedback on CBC/Radio-Canada programming as they renew their broadcasting licences, which expires on Aug. 31.

“We want to make sure that the content produced and distributed by CBC/Radio-Canada reflects the diversity of Canada’s population, while meeting its needs in both official languages,” read the platform. The forum will hold and record a public hearing on May 25 in Ottawa to further address the issue of representation.

Allard, along with a team representing INVISIBLES, was invited to meet with Radio-Canada on Feb. 20 to discuss their demands. They proposed a document of suggested practices, which was received well by Société Radio Canada/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (SRC/CBC), L’Association des galeries d’art contemporain (AGAC) and the Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference (ARCA). However, SRC/CBC explained that contemporary artists need better press relations in order to receive accurate representation.

“There are some projects on their way to create something to help at that level, but nothing is confirmed,” said Allard. “AGAC and ARCA had things to say about that, it’s not something really new they told us. However, they also offered to meet radio producers, which (according to them), they never did before. It is very generous and it’s the sign that it’s the beginning of a dialogue.”

But, if pre-existing government-funded arts programmes, in and of themselves, are not exploring diverse audiences, how can we expect the media to do the same? 

Since its conception, the petition has also attracted the attention of MAtv’s “Mise à Jour Montréal” who invited Louise Déry, the director of UQAM’s art gallery, to discuss the issue.

In a segment of Feb. 17’s episode, Déry reflects on how art writers for The New Yorker, The New York Times and The LA Times attend art schools’ graduating exhibitions to get a sense of emerging artists. Quebec media, on the other hand, doesn’t do that.

In most of Quebec’s newspapers, the arts section has been merged with culture, leading coverage to typically include generally inaccessible events, such operas, plays and symphonies. Rarely do they immerse themselves in art galleries outside of Montreal’s larger cultural institutions.

Allard argues that it is always the same artists who are put forward on the Quebec scene, and this way of thinking starts in university.

Allard attended Concordia’s MFA Open studios on Feb. 19 and noticed that all their visiting artists were from Montreal. “This is unacceptable,” he said. “I think that [the] university should strive to create new networks and this passes by inviting people outside current networks.”

On their social media platforms, INVISIBLES showcases a Quebecois artist or art collective a day for a project called 366 jours/366 artistes. Among the 366 artists are multi-disciplinary, video, performance and screen printing artists like Rachel Echenberg, Marc-Antoine K. Phaneuf and Dominique Pétrin. Also featured in the project are some that are well represented, such as sculptor David Altmejd and Concordia Studio Arts professor, painter Janet Werner. Both artists have pieces at the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Montreal and the Musée national des beaux-arts in Quebec.

Tune in to Radio Atelier on CIBL 101.5 on Mondays at 6 p.m. for more from Allard, or find them wherever you get your podcasts. For more information, or to listen/download episodes online visit



How the “Dumb Dad” stereotype hurts us all

Do you remember the Berenstain Bears? You know, a family of four: mama, papa, sister, and brother. It was a classic kid show: they lived in a tree-house, played outside, learned some lessons, and so on. Although this show seems straightforward, my mother never let me watch it.

At the time, I thought she was just being unnecessarily strict. Seven-year-old Callie wanted to hang out with a couple cartoon bears, what could possibly be wrong with that? As it turns out, she was actually on to something.

Writer Paul Farhi explained in Los Angeles Times that the fundamental narrative of the show is problematic.

“The action usually starts when the kids face a problem,” Farhi wrote. “They turn to Papa, who offers a “solution” that only makes the problem – or the kids’ fears about it – even worse. Enter Mama, who eventually sets everyone straight.”

This is a common archetype for fathers in media. These male characters are portrayed as incompetent and incapable of nurturing their family. It’s important to analyze the impact these stereotypes have on viewers. From Papa Bear to Homer Simpson, this character mould transcends all ages and is harmful to society.

We have indulged the “dumb dad” cliché for years. Even shows that are seemingly “representative” of today’s family, like Modern Family, and Life in Pieces, portray dads as incompetent and unaware of what it means to emotionally support family members. It sends the message that fathers are not crucial members of the emotional aspect of a family unit, whereas mothers are. This is not only hurtful and often an inaccurate representation of many fathers, but sets a specific tone for young boys and girls growing up and learning about the expectations of fatherhood and motherhood.

Co-founder of the U.S. advocacy group Dads and Daughters, Joe Kelly, explains that this is a cultural blind-spot and has become an unconscious and recurring story we tell.

“I don’t believe it’s a manner of injustice or anyone being victimized, I think it’s habit,” said Kelly. “The habit is that men are of secondary importance in the life of a family.”

As much as a father like Peter Griffin from Family Guy is a comic relief character, he adds little to no emotional support to his children. On the other hand, his wife Lois Griffin, is less funny and more shrill. Mothers often do all the emotional work on television and young children internalize this.

This being said, we are slowly seeing dads portrayed differently. For example, Terry Jeffords from Brooklyn 99 is a sergeant for the police force. He is a strong masculine figure who also shows vulnerability and prioritizes his children. Jack Pearson from This Is US, is a father who shows love and care, and viewers actively see how this has helped shape his family. These shows are creating a space where men can be vulnerable, emotionally intelligent, and kind.

This speaks directly to the feminist movement. We have to remember that feminist ideology at its core includes all genders and orientations. It is meant to free people of the stereotypes and categories that society has put them in. Unfortunately, these stereotypes don’t start or end with television; and we can see this being portrayed in commercials and movies as well.

Not to mention, this trope is overdone and boring. So how about we move past dads drinking beer and rolling their eyes at their vacuuming wife and lean into the complexity of a shared partnership?


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Innate Islamophobia is Everywhere

The portrayal of Islam in movies and on TV is, to say the least, tricky.

Spanish hit-series Élite was the first time I saw Muslims on western TV that weren’t al Qaeda or some terrorist trying to bomb a train. At first, it was a breath of fresh air to see the character of Nadia as just another student. Until she goes into the principal’s office and they tell her that in order for her to stay enrolled in the school, she had to remove her hijab. (Remind you of anything… kinda rhymes with Pill Quincy One?).

The new season also showed Nadia without her hijab, and with a new makeover meant to impress her crush. A lot of people were outraged by that, and rightfully so. One, it does imply that she’s not beautiful enough with her hijab to be impressive, and two, there is an underlying theme of oppression and suppression connected with the hijab. It’s as if the headscarf is a metaphor for the ‘tyranny’ that is Islam. As if to say, “take the scarf off, you’re removing the metaphorical veil of oppression and, voila! You’re free.”

Let me ask you something, do you remember Billie Eilish’s campaign with Calvin Klein, where she said the reason she wears baggy clothes is so no one can tell what’s under, and thus not objectify her? My god, people just wouldn’t stop praising her for this amazing and wonderful stance that inspired millions of women! It was seen as a fight against the patriarchy.

Well, you’re all a bunch of hypocrites and are absolutely incapable of moving past built-in bias. No, seriously, people don’t have the ability to emotionally and mentally transcend Islamophobic bias set by years of unfair portrayal, and see it for what it actually is. The point of the Hijab is humility, and exactly what Eilish said. The problem didn’t start, nor will it end, with Nadia in Élite. The problem is you. It’s all of us, really.

Look inside you, people. Have you ever caught yourself looking pitifully at a woman in a niqab? That’s problematic. Looking at headscarves at the same level we do a woman or child with bruises over their bodies is fundamentally wrong, and although your intentions might be good, your lack of understanding that it is most likely a choice hurts more than helps.

Yes, in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, women are forced to cover up. And yes, I’m against that, but that’s a cultural thing and not a religious one. The Quran gives general intrusctions, and the Hadith, the sayings and actions of the prophet Muhammad, gives details. It’s important to remember that what was written then doesn’t need to have the same interpretation today. Most muslim women choose to wear the hijab. Most muslim women want to cover up. I know at least three women who put the hijab on at a young age, and then decided to remove it. MY MOTHER REMOVED HER HIJAB AT ONE POINT. Granted, she put it on at 11-years-old and removed it about a month later, but the point remains that it is a choice; it’s a worldly representation of your Faith.

The word Islam literally means surrender, and letting go of worldly vanities is a step into surrender; like monks living in Kathmandu, or Sufis wandering and letting go of physical possessions. It’s meant to be a physical representation of what your priorities are: my appearance doesn’t matter as much as my intentions; ‘I will cover the outside so you can get to know me on the inside first.’

Some Middle Eastern cultures have let an innate patriarchy warrant a rather patriarchal interpretation of Islam. There’s an entire conversation that should happen about Islam being “anti-feminist,” because this is truthfully an atrocious lie.

There is a difference between religion and culture disguised under religious pretenses. The way Nadia was portrayed in Élite is just an example of how the media doesn’t distinguish between these two things. It’s time we learn to differentiate, and realize that what TV teaches you isn’t always what’s real – unrealistic beauty standards? Unrealistic portrayal of the hijab. It goes both ways.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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