The Twitter Controversy as a Rowling Story: Mirroring Subtext, Narrative Misdirection, and Literary Alchemy

In my first post about Rowling’s tweet in support of Maya Forstater, I focused on two questions concerning this explosive reappearance on this social media platform: ‘why now?’ and ‘why this subject?’ The first response in the comment thread to that post, I think now, has the closest thing we will have to correct answers to those questions for some time. Nick Jeffery wrote, tying the seemingly arbitrary post to Rowling’s new Solve et Coagula tattoo (one he was the first to notice), ” It is an act of destruction and it is quite deliberate.”

I believe Mr Jeffery is quite right. To understand Rowling’s tweet and the consequent fall-out in fandom, our best course is to read the specific text in question as we would any story Rowling has written with the tools we know work best. What those tools suggest is that Rowling intentionally created her break with the Social Justice movement and its champions in Harry Potter fandom and I have to suspect with Hollywood in the months to come — and, as importantly, she is re-creating her public image and self to reflect better the person she wants to be (or the public mask behind which she is more comfortable).

Rather than the tweet being a clueless act of bigotry, what this view points to is three contrary to prevalent narrative possibilities: (1) that Rowling has written a story with real-world characters who voice the lines she know they will speak for effects she wants to happen within her narrative, (2) she has embedded clues for the attentive reader to discover, clues which reveal her true meaning as well as a lesson in reading well, and (3) that the #IStandWithMaya post she made on 19 December is a long-planned and courageous act of re-invention that frees her and her serious readers potentially from being sock-puppets for the Zeitgeist. Call this the ‘Solve et Coagula Theory.’

To see these three possibilities involves a review of Rowling’s year and most importantly the week prior to the tweet in question, a review using the tools we have in hand for interpreting Rowling’s work in a careful reading of the specific text in question and of the context of her previous work and public comments. If you want to move beyond the Daily Prophet headlines that ‘Rowling is a Transphobe!’ and ‘Inclusive Message of Hogwarts Saga Betrayed!,’ please join me after the jump for an exercise in exegesis with the tools of texts within texts, narrative misdirection, and literary alchemy that reveal Rowling as the maestro of media manipulation and personal re-invention.

The Context of 2019 and the Week Prior to the Tweet

The hurdle that must be cleared first to get at the story Rowling is writing in the 19 December tweet is reading it in isolation. (The second hurdle is reading it too quickly, but one step at a time.) Rowling seems to have been laying the ground for this seemingly out of the blue departure from her accepted behavior and role since she took on the persona of Robert Galbraith in 2013, a transgender pseudonym (her “inner bloke” as she told Val McDermid), to escape the burden she carried as “the writer who gave us Harry Potter.” The tweet heard round the world is only the continuation of Jo Murray’s break with her first pseudonym, ‘J. K. Rowling,’ and all the baggage attendant with it, so she can be herself rather than the person idolized and pigeon-holed forever by Potter-fandom as some kind of totem. Reading the #IStandWithMaya text outside that context and the actions of the past year and the week prior to her pushing ‘send’ is to miss what she is doing for herself and for her readers.

Those who have read Robert Galbraith attentively — and, forgive me, no one online or in print reads the Strike novels more closely than the HogwartsProfessor.com faculty — know that two of the Strike books feature transgender persons or stand-ins. As many have noted, the transgender woman in The Silkworm is an unstable and violent man in transition named Pipia who twice tries to kill Cormoran by knifing him. There is also a woman who takes on the name of a famous author, a man who has been black-mailing her for decades, and writes the story of his demise in that man’s name. This is the first story Rowling wrote in the series and perhaps the most involved and inter-textual; Silkworm has become even more interesting in light of the transgender controversy.

Less frequently noted (because they didn’t make it into the BBC adaptations or the Wikipedia page for the novel?) are the characters in Career of Evil who long to amputate a limb or more than one limb. Louise Freeman wrote about this Career sub-theme about Body image integrity disorder (BIID), also known as apotemnophilia, in her HogPro post, ‘J. K. Rowling and the Phantoms in the Brain.’

The narrative action in Career begins with an amputated limb being sent to Robin at Strike’s office. In the course of the story, we meet representatives of the BIID community because Kelsey, the murdered woman whose leg was cut off, suffered from this condition and communicated online with the players involved. Robin and Cormoran meet in a museum cafeteria with Jason, the apotemnophiliac who met with the murdered woman, and Tempest, the BIID board moderator. Jason is pathetic, a psychological basket case, but Tempest, who uses a wheel chair because she identifies as an amputee despite having all her working limbs, is despicably self-important and mock-heroic in her martyrdom. Robin is almost sympathetic but Strike, who lost a leg in Afghanistan quite unwillingly, has to be restrained at meeting’s end from tearing the two amputee wanna-bes, well, limb from limb.

In Career’s climactic confrontation with the psychopathic murderer, Strike learns that Laing has a dismemberment fetish. He finds women’s breasts among other body parts in the killer’s refrigerator. Laing’s victims are exclusively women and Career of Evil is an unbroken horror story involving the dismembering of women’s lives and their bodies by manipulative and violent men — incest, pedophilia, rape, verbal and physical battering, as well as murder are the backdrop to this story, one that Rowling understandably worried might be misconstrued as “violence porn.” The transparent story elements for transgender people in the story — the BIID young man and woman who want to cut off limbs the way transgender people are surgically transitioned to match their gender identity and the murderous man who cuts off his victims breasts akin to transgender women’s masectomies — are telling. This subject is not a new one to Rowling-Galbraith. 

Why, though, would Rowling choose the transgender issue as the diving board from which to launch herself from her identity as defender of all marginalized people and protected classes? I suggest for your consideration that it is because she is done with her political Social Justice role and, as important, she has recognized that there is no better issue with which to recreate her public image than transgenderism because the players are so easily and predictably manipulated to say what she wants them to say.

This time last year, Rowling tweeted an epic thread in King James voice about why she was breaking with the Labour Party. It was the first open strike in her year long effort to blow up and recreate herself, albeit the fruit no doubt of her great frustration with being doxxed repeatedly, especially by the Crimes of Grindelwald twitter police, for being insufficiently strident in defense of gay people, transgendered men and women, and the politically repressed. We have evidence this is the case, comments beyond her ‘kiss off’ in one of her last tweets to a twitter genius who said the Cinderella ‘Single Mother on the Dole’ story was a lie and that Rowling had always been a ‘Child of Privilege.’

Note the Groves comments in the thread to that 2018 post by Louise Freeman mentioned above about Capgras Syndrome. Groves refers to a September 2018 re-tweet and comment by J. K. Rowling about a “conspiracy theory” that her children tease her about:

Rowling told us here that it was a ‘thing’ in her family that her identity was being usurped or at least challenged by external narrators into a faux reality person or soul-less puppet of manipulative actors. Rowling is laughing about this in 2018 but it is clearly something on her mind just before she posts her good-bye to Labour, a large part of her political identity and twitter reality, and then disappears from a platform with 14.7 million followers.

Why transgenderism of all controversial subjects? (1) It speaks to Rowling’s core topical concern as a writer, something like Dickens and the abuse of children, (2) Rowling was already being labeled as a “transphobe” by that community and its supporters in the government and media, and (3) the fandom groups who use Rowling simultaneously as their idol and ventriloquist’s dummy to advance every possible issue on the left (to include transgenderism, of course) were exactly the people usurping Rowling’s real self from her and who could be manipulated easily and surely to break with her if she spoke up on this issue counter the accepted narrative.

One at a time.

Rowling’s Core Topical Concern: Rowling is a writer whose essential focus is about writing and reading and the transformative power of great writing; it is the focus of this weblog to explain that to serious readers. She does, however, have a political issue she wants or needs to put front and center in everything she writes, namely, men abusing women. See Patrick McCauley’s chapter in Into the Pensieve for a review of this theme in Harry Potter; the four main characters of the Hogwarts Saga, Harry, Albus, Severus, and Lord Thingy, are who they are because of the abuse suffered by their mothers or, in Albus’ case, because of the rape of his younger sister. Every woman in Casual Vacancy is the object of manipulation and abuse by a man in her life and the core mystery of Cormoran Strike’s life is who or ‘what forces’ combined to kill his mother Leda (not to mention Robin’s agonies with Matt and the House of Horrors quality in Career). I think transgenderism, in the particular sense of transgender women claiming the right to be treated as women with respect to public spaces, athletics, and feminist issues, more than Brexit, Boris Johnson, even Donald Trump, is a clear case of leftist over-reach, into the civil rights issues turning on men abusing women. This is a trigger point for Rowling the Feminist so her choice of this issue is not a surprise but almost a ‘given.’

Rowling was Being Labelled a “Transphobe” in January 2019: On 10 January, LGBTQ Nation posted an article ‘The Mysterious Case of J. K. Rowling and Her Transphobic Twitter History.’ Rowling is accused flat-out of being a transphobe for following or re-tweeting ‘deplorables’ deemed transphobic by the arbiters of such judgments, the LGBTQ community thought police. This became something of a meme by the summer so that the fact of Rowling’s aversion to trans people could be openly asserted by activists like Phaylen Fairchild (which post caused this Snopes.com discussion, recently amended because of Rowling’s latest tweet, from ‘False’ to ‘Mixture’) and on Twitter by Potter fans. On Rowling’s birthday for example, a tweet by Emma Watson wishing Rowling a Happy Birthday received this response:

The term ‘transphobe,’ someone who fears and discriminates against trans people because of his or her prejudice and psychological issues, was created on the successful use of the terms ‘homophobe’ and ‘Islamaphobe’ to doxx anyone not celebrating homosexuality or Islam, even Islamism and Islamic terrorism, full throat and without reservation. The political victories for gay rights and the silencing of any criticism of the Muslim community in the UK and US has served as a model for transgender rights advocate to use the term ‘transphobe’ and the acronym ‘TERF’ for anyone expressing any kind of reservation about transgender men and women. Hence Rowling’s being labeled a transphobe in January 2019 despite her otherwise impeccable credentials as a card-carrying Labour Party member and spokesperson for the civil rights of any protected class.

Rowling’s Cast of Characters in Her Latest Story: Rowling is a novelist who has a sideline gig as a screenwriter. She writes stories in which her characters speak and perform according to her carefully structured plan. Rowling chose transgenderism, I suggest for your consideration, as her point of departure from her old public identity to a new one because the characters on the public stage could easily and surely be manipulated to make the break for her, that is, to doxx and shame her endlessly as a transphobe thence making her radioactive in Hollywood and in Potter fandom without her having said anything transphobic except in the minds of the those possessed by an absolutist and komissar version of that issue.

To get this, it helps to see how Rowling has characters in her novels manipulate the media and readers of newspapers to believe and act the way those characters want others to behave. Hermione’s use of Rita Skeeter and the Quibbler to get Harry’s side of Cedric Diggory’s death out is a classic for-instance. Cormoran Strike, too, enjoys this counter-narrative deception as well; in Career of Evil, he posts a want-ad in the London papers for a new assistant after firing Robin and getting his favorite reporter to write up a story about Robin’s departure from the firm. Strike like Rowling despises Fleet Street tabloids but uses the press to manipulate the murderer into stalking his new hire at a disco while he breaks into the killer’s apartment.

This is trickier in real life, of course, but, if as I suggest, Rowling planned to recreate her public persona via this explosive tweet, it was a work of genius. All the players in Harry Potter fandom have immediately risen to the bait and all but disavowed her as “disappointing,” “transphobic,” and otherwise deplorable, “in need of education” (!) and “needing to do better.” If you doubt that the players she would want to break with her immediately responded as characters in her alchemical drama, check out these tweets from The Harry Potter Alliance, Melissa Anelli, PotterCast, and Jackson Bird, author of Sorted, a Harry Potter fan’s memoir of coming out as Trans (who has since cashed in with New York Times editorial page opinion piece).

Scroll down to the end of this Leaky-Cauldron article for an honor roll listing of all the Big Name Fandomers that checked in for the transgendered and against Rowling. MuggleNet, though offline since 13 December as they “transition to new ownership,” broke their silence with a tweet featuring the transgender flag. Hank Green? Harry Potter as Sacred Text? No one broke ranks. Everyone who had been using ‘J. K. Rowling, Political Advocate for Everyone Oppressed’ as their sock-puppet and justification, in other words, has been turned into Rowling’s ventriloquist dummy to say the things she knows they have to say in their roles, which achieves her end.

Only Emma Watson, who has made a career out of the #MeToo version of SPEW, has remained silent on Twitter. We can expect her, though, to come out eventually in a break with her mentor and spirit guide, as she imagines Rowling to be, and speak the lines in defiance that “Transgender Rights are Human Rights” — exactly as Rowling wrote those lines for her Hermione. The conflict the Potter actors are experiencing as ‘Friends of Jo,’ a relationship that made their careers and is part of their status in fandom, is evident in the tweets of Evanna Lynch, who essentially refused to call Rowling a bigot but cannot get her head around the in-fandom universally lamented tweet.

The Week Before the Tweet: Rowling Sets the Stage

Rowling made two public appearances just before her tweet announcing #IStandWithMaya. Each served as explanation and backdrop to her seemingly out of the blue shift from ‘PC Goddess of the Left’ to ‘Clueless Bigoted TERF.’

The first was the premiere in New York City of the HBO documentary ‘Finding the Way Home,’ at which event she appeared alongside Eddie Redmayne, the film’s narrator, and in her role as advocate for institutionalized children. This function and Rowling’s participation in it served a dual purpose.

Most obviously, it emphasized in telling fashion her commitment to the cause and people she serves as founder and life-president of Lumos. She has said previously she expects her legacy will be the work of Lumos rather than what she has written, i.e., this is who she is, what she is about. After almost a year’s silence on Twitter and in the public sphere, she ‘comes out’ at the HBO function as champion of the helpless, children being used and abused in institutions world-wide.

As important, I think, is the mirroring text within the text she gives her close readers at this event. Every Rowling novel and screenplay turns on a text within the text that the characters struggle to understand and which informs the larger drama. This can be a written or oral text, from The Prophecy and Tales of Beedle the Bard in Potter to the murderers’ narratives in Cormoran Strike and Prophecies of Tycho Dodonus in Fantastic Beasts. I think of Caitlin Harper and Emily Strand’s work showing the Quidditch matches as a mirroring sub-text to the story in which each appears. As noted above, Rowling’s work is about the creation and interpretation of public and private narratives and developing the power of penetration to see, grasp, and act, even recreate these narratives. Rowling gave us the written text of the tweet to come at the HBO event.

She revealed there a script tattoo with the words ‘Solve + Coagula’ legible on her right inside arm just above the wrist. As Nick Jeffery noted per Beatrice Groves (and I wrote up the week prior in a post devoted to this alchemical axiom), this was a marker of Rowling’s intentionality in her destroying her old identity or persona to recreate herself in a new light. The #IStandWithMaya tweet would ignite her nigredo with the various players extinguishing every bit of her old self (and their use of her to advance their causes) and give her the space for re-definition on her own terms. The text-within-the-text could not be more explicit.

The second event was the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award dinner in Washington, DC, at which she was honored for her work with Lumos. Her remarks at this event and the honor itself tell us what she thinks in advance of the backlash she is about to undergo in the alembic of her own devising, the absurdity of the condemnation she is about to experience, and why she is doing this to herself and to her fan base. Listen and watch her performance if you haven’t already. 

Rowling knows she is about to be crushed and dismissed as a transphobe, something in the current atmosphere as harsh and indelible a tag as racist, fascist, and homophobe. She appears the week prior to the dissolution of her existence as Humanitarian Plus at an event honoring the world’s greatest champions of Political Correctness, Inc., and of Human Rights. Nothing could make the looney-tunes about to call her a transphobe look more ridiculous than her being honored at this dinner.

She re-identifies herself with the cause of Lumos, the plight of abused and suffering children in institutions, in every aspect of her remarks. She confirms and underlines what she told us at the HBO premiere in this regard. This is her prima materia to which she expects to be reduced after her dissolution in the outrage to come over her tweet.

And her remarks focus on courage, a virtue she says Churchill believed was the most important because it guarantees all the others. She claims Robert Kennedy personified this virtue, a claim I find more than questionable, but, true or not, Rowling accepted the Ripple of Hope award by saying that she hoped to be courageous, to say the thing that needs to be said, to take the action you need to take, no matter the cost or whatever others less courageous or insightful might say.

The next week she makes her #IStandWithMaya tweet in response to the court ruling against Maya Forstater, a ruling whose publication date was known well in advance, in an act of courage that blew up her fan base and created all the space Rowling needs to recreate herself as person, advocate, and as a writer.

Read the Tweet

The tweet heard round the world deserves a close reading:

It has five parts and two hashtags. Four of the parts are allowances if not celebrations of the rights of transgender people in keeping with the claims as a protected class. The fifth and the hashtag lines? The fifth line is a question to which the hashtags are answers. The rhetorical question is a defense of free speech and specifically the free speech of feminists who do not believe the Orwellian doublethink that “transgender women are women.”

Her ‘stand with Maya,’ then, is not a TERF-ing, transphobic tweet tearing down the rights of transgender people; quite obviously it is quite the opposite in 80% of what is written there. The one line that so offends the Thought Police is a criticism of the UK law that allows businesses and government agencies to “force women out of their jobs,” i.e., firing or refusing to renew their contracts, if they state publicly their beliefs that men, even if certified by the State to be women, should not be given access to places and situations reserved for women. The law restricting women’s rights is the object of Rowling’s ire here, not transgender people, however they wish to twist a reading of it into transphobia.

Rowling’s serious readers recognize this as a characteristic of Rowling’s writing, one of her signature gifts as story teller. She is the maestro of narrative misdirection. You think the story is about one thing, and, oh, no! It’s about the opposite! Rowling is writing about civil rights of women but her fandom readers in knee jerk fashion believe she is attacking a protected group of oppressed people, transgender women. We know, because this is how she rowls, that the truth will become clear in the end but first everyone needs to be deceived by their hurried reading and misunderstanding of the narrative text in question.

What can we expect in the months to come? I think it is likely that we will see the continued disassociation of Harry Potter fandom from their now politically radioactive cult founder with the real possibility that the Fantastic Beasts franchise will go on but with The Presence serving only as story consultant rather than screenwriter and executive producer. This will free Rowling to work on her Lumos legacy while still collecting royalty checks for her charities and to write Strike novels and produce BBC adaptations. Jo Murray, having separated herself from her first pseudonym, J. K. Rowling, can live her life as herself, mother-wife-philanthropist-and-author, as her transgendered persona, Robert Galbraith, and as a free woman. Think Dobby, the ‘free elf,’ the magical person who has courageously escaped the prison of other people’s ideas of who and what she is.

All this with her characteristic mirroring sub-text, narrative misdirection, and literary alchemy. As a failed screenwriter and not-quite-a-playwright, Rowling has written an alchemical drama with her recent tweet of self explosion and recreation akin to Christie’s 19 day disappearance and Mousetrap. She is using all her best writing tools to use the characters at hand in crafting the biographical narrative she wants rather than the box into which Potter fame and fortune largely forced her.

Three cheers for The Presence for writing this fascinating story turn and for giving her close readers all the clues we have needed to discern it. Best wishes to her during this self-inflicted nigredo — and shame on all those who condemn her for re-claiming the freedom to be whom she wants to be rather than the dummy they wish to speak the lines the want her to say.

Comments

  1. Kelly Loomis says

    This is a very well thought out piece. Many of her HP fans, would likely be “terrorized” reading these novels. She would be accused of the very things many fans have been saying in relation to her tweet.

    I think a point has been made in posts on this site and in the comment sections that many have read into Rowling’s HP novels some views that she may not have been trying to convey. I think, in particular, about how many of her themes regarding Hogwarts houses, pure bloods etc are more to do with classism, the education system in Britain and the elitism brought about by titles being passed down in families.

    These themes have been extrapolated to LGBTQ issues or any other marginalized group. Yes, she has shown herself to be sympathetic in having a disease like HIV discrimination and fear compared to the fear shown towards Lupin and other werewolves. But I agree with your assertion that she may not have wanted the role of being placed on a pedestal as the spokeswoman for every social justice group.

  2. Ms. Loomis,
    I think you have hit the nail on the head. I am not sure she ever wanted the role she has been forced into. Honestly, who would? I have thought for many a year that these marginalized groups projected their issues into her stories and onto her personally in a very wish fulfillment manner. Rowling is not a hateful person but she does not want to be on a pedestal as champion for these folks either. Tolerance and acceptance, as we all know, are two very different concepts. Is Rowling a terrible person if she chooses to tolerate these groups while also disagreeing or not accepting them from a Christianity standpoint? I do not know if she feels this way or not but if she chooses to become the “dark knight” (batman movie reference) and take this on the chin from a PR standpoint with the goal of presenting the true Rowling eventually, then she has that right. I just wish fans and media would not be so quick to judge, not our place.

  3. Bruce Charlton says

    @John – An interesting analysis, and plausible.

    From her persepctive in protecting children – the surprise is that JKR did not make her stand on the biggest issue of the ‘trans agenda’, which is surely the grossest and largest scale systematic abuse of children the West has seen for many generations – I mean castration, mutilation, drugging and inflicted brain damage – as well as the psychological abuse and coercive child trafficking fed by the ‘transition’ process. This would strike me as firmer ground than the slippery incoherence that is femimism.

    Because I worked in evolutionary psychologyt and intelligence research; I have known and had colleagues among plenty of the numerous scientist victims of political correctness witch-hunts over the several past decades. Sadly, few of them have learned much from the experience, continuing to try and assert an ineffectual moderate Leftism, in face of the permanent revolution and expansile insanity and incoherence that is real world Leftism.

    JKR has only one solid place to go from here, which is to return to the serious Christianity she abandoned. Sadly, having a tattoo (which – for middle-aged women – is often a kind of advert of sexual availability) is not really a valid first step on this path; but time will tell.

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Varying Bruce Charlton’s observations about “colleagues among plenty of the numerous scientist victims of political correctness witch-hunts” a bit, how do the first three (very unqualified) sentences of The Tweet seem to sit with the proposed (re)new(ed), er, Coagulate?

    Varying some other of Bruce Charlton’s observations, with apologies for venturing to ask without having watched her Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award dinner performance or ever yet read in much detail about things she has said in connection with Lumos, how does Mrs. Murray tend to express herself (if she does) with respect to the helpless, when they are adopted (or procured and trafficked, e.g., via ‘surrogacy’) children (in danger of) being used and abused domestically?

    Tangentially, with apologies if I’ve missed the discussion, is there likely to be play with details of Christie’s Pale Horse (and/or even of Stoppard’s Real Inspector Hound) and “Tempest, who uses a wheel chair because she identifies as an amputee despite having all her working limbs,” in Career of Evil?

  5. Joanne Gray says

    Thank you for writing this very thought provoking post. I confess I have been puzzling about how to explain this mad-frenzy of concern trolling on Twitter that is so fixated on constantly attacking JK Rowling like the mad-scenes out of Hitchcock’s 1963 movie “The Birds”.

    History does indeed repeat itself in bouts of Virtue gone wild. If a little is good then more is better. The only thing is that more isn’t always better or even always good. Some good changes in the beginning of the French Revolution morphed into the terror of ever more indiscriminate executions. I’m sure those sitting in judgement at the Salem Witch Trials and the Spanish Inquisition thought they were doing God’s work, and were more than capable to carry out the setting to right of society by their own Godlike impartiality. They always make the fatal mistake of forgetting and failing to recognize their own mortal limitations in understanding while attempting to purify others.

    It is painful to see the pack on Twitter talk of tolerance for their cause but showing none in their quest to make sure they hold any they deem to be less “pure” up for judgement.

  6. Melissa Aaron (Moonyprof) says

    I think you’re underestimating the depth of the problem and the damage that has been done. I was never among those who celebrated Rowling as “The Queen,” but in a world where transgender women are being murdered at such a rate, “tone deaf” doesn’t cover it. I have been the beneficiary of all-women’s education and I have seriously considered the issues of so-called “men invading our space,” and came to the careful conclusion that this is not that. “Men invading our space” looks like what happened when Girton went co-ed. At the time, the population of Cambridge undergrads was about 35% female, and decreased as one went up the ranks. That included several all-women’s colleges, including my alma mater, Newnham. Overnight, half of the spots at Girton were given to men, who identified as men and were, in fact, men. It seemed that they did not care that they were going to a “girl’s school,” as long as it was Cambridge. It demolished opportunities for women to come to Cambridge, which was a crying shame. Did you know that women couldn’t take degrees at Cambridge until 1947? They could attend lectures and study, they could even take the exams, but they still weren’t eligible for a degree. That’s why places like Newnham existed: to learn Greek while stitching sheets. (It’s fictionalized as “Fernham” in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of Her Own). Its high walls and long cloister have long been seen by male undergraduates as a challenge.

    During the time that I was there, Magdalen College decided to admit women. Frankly, this was because they had so many legacy admissions that they were bottoming out in the academic tables. Few women applied, and I understand why. The founder’s portrait was draped in black, and something unspeakable about female anatomy was burned into the lawn in weedkiller. Do you know how the British are about their lawns, especially Cambridge? I can assure you that trans women would have been very unwelcome there, and probably in serious danger. I am very protective towards women’s spaces and opportunities. This, as I said, is not that. I say this to indicate that mine is not a kneejerk response. Much consideration went into it.

    I am very glad that my work at SWPACA this year will be on Good Omens, angelology, and Milton, and that planning for another MISTI is not going on at the present time. It’s too fraught with controversy and pain. I have had to consider how to move forward with teaching as well. It will come up. It will have to be discussed. It can’t be kicked under the rug, and it’s possible that the course will be boycotted. Possible, but not necessarily, as the consensus seems to be that the author is not her books.

    I wish I could make you understand that these people you dismiss as “the Twitterati” and “the Thought Police” are my real friends, who were hurt to the soul by this. There are few places in the world where they have felt safe and welcome. If nothing else, consider them as real people, with real hearts and real tears to shed.

  7. Thank you, as always, Melissa, for your challenging feedback and for offering a perspective informed by both your unique, broad experience and your powers of reflection and empathy. I learned a lot, especially about Oxbridge history, and share your hope that the serious reading in university settings of Rowling’s books is not the target of political activists.

    I’d make two notes, though, in response to one assertion you make and to your closing suggestion:

    First, you assert that transgender women are being murdered at an alarming rate. There is serious evidence that this is a false claim. See Rod Dreher’s methodical analysis of the faux crisis in which he examines every murder of a trans person in the previous year. Looking at the facts still reflects a tragedy, yes; the murder of anyone is the loss of an invaluable human life that echoes through eternity. But Dreher’s research all but demonstrates that there isn’t a trans hunt being waged by merciless bigots in America.

    Next, in response to your suggestion that I am callous, even heartless, I am surprised that I need to say this, but here goes:

    I accept and understand and believe, contrary to your Parthian shot (and, I think, your experience of me in our interactions through the years), that those who decry, attack, and dismiss any view (and any person holding the view) except the unqualified and unrestricted opinion that “transgender rights are human rights” are indeed “real people, with real hearts and real tears.”

    I believe Rowling does, too; 80% of her tweet says just that. What she does not accept, if I understand #IStandWithMaya correctly, is their claimed privilege of determining what opinions everyone else may have without living in fear of being tarred and feathered via social media and of losing their jobs and reputation. That seems a reasonable limit to trans rights rather than a heartless or cruel stance; it is the boundary, after all, that every person observes in a culture allowing free speech.

    Regardless, this was not the point of this post, which was a long examination of the Tweet Heard Round the World as a careful and courageous Rowling text. I am disappointed that you restricted your response to an exploration of the larger issue, about which, frankly, I have ‘no skin in the game,’ and consequently have not made the subject of my posts here.

    To everyone reading this, not just Melissa —

    There are plenty of places online to discuss the ins and outs, rights and wrongs, of the various positions concerning Rowling’s 19 December tweet. This thread is about the literary analysis of the context Rowling prepared for serious readers before she made the tweet and the text of the message itself. Let’s restrict the comments here to that subject going forward.

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