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Why This Plot Point in J.K. Rowling's Latest Book Is So Hurtful

When I heard about the plot of “Troubled Blood,” a new book by J.K. Rowling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, I was infuriated.

According to early reviews (the book was just released this week), the detective book features a killer who dresses as a woman in order to trick his victims. While the man isn’t identified as transgender, the trope of men “using” a female identity for the sake of causing harm (think: more recent debates about the “bathroom bill“) is an old and harmful stereotype weaponized against the transgender community. This, coupled with Rowling’s history of transphobic comments, makes this plot point feel even more intentionally hurtful and problematic.

On one end, I was immensely angry following the transphobic dialogue and tweets from the author. On the other end, I was incredibly sad reminiscing about connecting with my sister over the “Harry Potter” series when we were growing up and the role transphobia had in my life.

I connected to identity development within the “Harry Potter” series in my teens as I struggled with various aspects of my own identity. At that time in my life, I struggled a lot and didn’t know who was safe to talk to about these struggles. I was always searching for information and answers to who I was — my sexuality and gender, being biracial and black and more — using TV and movies, and searching inside books and on the internet. During those years, my anxiety was high, my self-image was low and I was confused by life and how I fit into the world around me. In addition to incidents of discrimination, trauma, ableism, racism and transphobia, these experiences impacted my well-being before and after I came out as gender-fluid in 2014 and then as transgender in 2015. With the recent conversations and reactions around the transphobia in “Troubled Blood” and J.K. Rowling’s tweets, I am reminded that as a trans individual, I am still figuring out how to navigate difficult conversations about transphobia.

Why is the trope of “dangerous man dresses up as a woman” damaging to the trans community?

Over the years, I’ve learned representation matters. In the book “Troubled Blood,” the trope of a “dangerous man dressed up as a woman” and “cross-dressing serial killer” are examples of continued representations damaging to the trans and broader LGBTQ community. These examples have often increased stigma throughout history and facilitated ideas and perceptions, inciting discrimination and violence toward the trans community. In all forms of media, fiction or non-fiction, representation matters as they inform the data viewers and readers receive about the topic, idea, people or community represented.

From a reader’s perspective, when it comes to reading a book with transphobic tropes, whether fiction or non-fiction, the reader will either consciously or unconsciously engage in the ladder of inference. As the reader engages with the book’s characters and topics, data will be selected, and the reader’s cultural and personal experiences will add meaning to this data. From here, assumptions will be made based on the meaning added. Conclusions will be drawn, and beliefs about the topic and world will be adopted informing future actions, further breaking down transphobic perspectives or reinforcing transphobic perspectives.

In a moment of pause, thinking about the impact of how damaging the trope is in the book, “Troubled Blood,” and the transphobia as experienced by reviewers and fans, I began to weep. I wept thinking about the reported 28 trans lives lost to violence in the U.S. this year as of August already, surpassing the total for 2019. I cried for my own experiences as a biracial transman with multiple disabilities. I remembered struggling with conversations of activism and embedded transphobia filled with high anxiety, feeling that I won’t be accepted and have to hide that part of who I am from larger sections of my wider family. I am filled with emotion every time I hear, read, see or experience marginalization, violence, stigma, discrimination across many areas in life targeted at the trans community. I am reminded why any transphobic comments, interactions and media infuriates me. In those exhausting moments of being outraged, I remember how vital self-care is to my wellbeing, engaging in challenging conversations, like conversations dealing with transphobia.

How trans people, like myself, can take care of themselves during this difficult conversation:

  1. Remember that your identity, your experiences and your feelings are valid.
  2. Stay connected with yourself, especially with how you are doing and what you need.
  3. Express yourself/your voice in a way that works best for you.
  4. Take time to rest and rejuvenate.
  5. Unplug from the media and news.
  6. Seek support (i.e., LGBTQ support groups, friends, family, professionals, etc.).
  7. Nurture your body.
  8. Fill your time with people and activities that support who you are and boost your self-esteem.
  9. Establish your boundaries.
  10. Practice mindfulness, affirmations and other self-love/self-care activities.
  11. Read a book by a transgender writer.

If you need support right now, you can call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. To learn more about the support they offer, head here.  

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