A number of readers are criticising J.K. Rowling’s The Silkworm amidst Twitter transphobia claims. Let’s take a moment to consider the controversy.

In 1997, a literary phenomenon was born with the release of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Ten years later, the seventh novel – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – rounded off a series which stormed the globe, enticing children and adults alike. The books were credited for getting an entire generation of kids into reading and their legacy and impact since then cannot be underestimated.

Rowling swiftly became an icon and one of the richest authors in the world. Nevertheless, despite her books being championed, she hasn’t been free of controversy, especially lately.

Photo by Fred Duval/FilmMagic

J.K. Rowling accused of being transphobic

As noted by Vogue, J.K. Rowling tweeted out on Saturday, June 6th 2020 about a piece called ‘Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.’

She offered her thoughts, expressing: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

This was met with criticism from her followers and she decided to further clarify her views on the matter in the thread: “I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.”

In another tweet, she also addressed: “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”

Now, many have dated back perceived transphobia to her fiction material, looking to her 2014 novel, The Silkworm…

The Silkworm: Transphobia accusations

The Silkworm was published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith and serves as the second in a series of detective novels which invites readers to explore a satirical view of the literature industry.

However, the depiction of a certain character has raised some eyebrows as of late.

Within the case that’s explored in the novel, we learn that the victim was having an affair with one of his students – also his protege – Pippa, a young trans woman.

As argued by Vice, amongst others, the way that she is described and the manner in which Rowling emphasises her as ‘other’ can be considered highly offensive. Some have claimed that the way she has written the character shares similarities with the ways in which transphobes critique trans identity.

The source notes that a contributor for Vice – Katelyn Burns – has drawn attention to arguable transphobia in a certain The Silkworm passage. Katelyn wrote:

“In the scene, a trans woman, Pippa, follows and tries to stab the protagonist, Cormoran Strike, before getting trapped in Strike’s office. After demanding Pippa’s ID, her trans status is revealed and her visible Adam’s apple is noted, while it’s noted that her hands were jammed in her pockets. Pippa tries several times to escape the office before Strike finally says, “‘If you go for that door one more time I’m calling the police and I’ll testify and be glad to watch you go down for attempted murder. And it won’t be fun for you Pippa,’ he added. ‘Not pre-op.’”

Since the recent tweets, others have gone back to the novel to view the treatment of the character under a particularly critical lens.

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