Trans Harry Potter actor rips up her contract and demands JK Rowling pays attention to thousands of years of transgender history
What happens when a hugely respected public figure throws their support behind an ideology that seeks to deny the rights of a marginalised minority?
Not so long ago, the beloved children’s author JK Rowling was just that — until a disastrous tweet broke the spell and caused ripples of transphobia to be felt across the entire LGBT+ community.
Rowling has since shrugged off any semblance of plausible deniability as she continues to spread a virulently anti-trans rhetoric across her 14.5 million Twitter followers.
Now a transgender actor formerly employed by the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, Florida is ripping up her contract and demanding that her scenes be removed from the park, as she exposes the flaws in the binary gender ideology Rowling supports.
— PinkNews (@PinkNews) June 13, 2020
“People like JK Rowling feel that womanhood is a category that they own, that it’s something which is only theirs and that womanhood, biologically, is only one shade of pink,” said Ela Xora.
JK Rowling: Anti-trans views are no longer a ‘middle aged moment’.
Last year JK Rowling publicly aligned herself with Maya Forstater, a woman who pursued legal action to have “gender-critical views” protected under the UK Equalities Act. Forstater lost the case when a judge ruled that her views were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”, but they were respected by Rowling, it seems.
Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 19, 2019
That Rowling would support such a “transphobic” ideology came as no surprise to many in the LGBT+ community, as few were convinced that her questionable Twitter history really was the “clumsy and middle-aged moment” her representatives claimed it was.
But for many, it was a watershed moment. Thousands will have been misled by Rowling’s vast oversimplification of the case, and thousands more will have seen her words and rallying hashtags as an endorsement of the harmful transphobic views they already held.
While the prospect of trans persecution and violence were probably far from Rowling’s mind at the time, it’s an everyday fear for so many transgender, non-binary, intersex and gender non-conforming people.
And when transphobic views are publicly endorsed by an international celebrity with access to a multi-million online following, that fear becomes more tangible.
Transphobic tweets give the green light for abuse.
Trans actor Ela Xora auditioned for the role of Cormac McLaggen in the Harry Potter film series back in 2007, encouraged by her friend Natalia Tena who already had a lead part in the franchise as Nymphordora Tonks.
Although she wasn’t successful in the audition, Xora later received a call back for a different job: a Quidditch player at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The three days of filming passed quickly, and over the years she thought little about the fact that her face was on a big screen in a theme park. That changed when Rowling began expressing views that put Xora and those like her at risk, heedless of the actual consequences for the most vulnerable people in society.
“Women like Maya [Fortstater] have for decades been whipping up this sense of entitlement to misgender transgender and intersex people, women particularly,” Xora said.
“You look at what goes on behind people’s behaviour when they start misgendering you, and often they quickly slip into verbal abuse and humiliating us, ridiculing us in public… People have threatened me in different ways, simply for going out my front door.”
Xora knew she had to take a stand after Rowling first started tweeting about trans issues.
She explained that when influential figures comment on trans rights, as Rowling did, it can risk a push back from the public.
“In the last two years, myself and lots of my friends who are like me, we’ve almost become recluses because we’re scared of going out in public,” she said.
“I just thought, look, I don’t need this. I’ve already got enough persecution from members of my own family, and also the religion I was born into, which has been non-stop. [This is] trying to endanger my life and endanger my existence in this world, for who I really am.”
Trans people have existed throughout history.
Rowling’s perception of gender has ramifications beyond the realms of Twitter, and as Xora is keen to point out, is just plain wrong.
As well as being an actor, Xora is also an expert in trans and intersex art history and the first trans woman ever to lecture at the Royal College of Art in London. She knows better than most that the idea of sex and gender as an immutable binary just isn’t true – and humans have known this for thousands of years, too.
As early as the 4th century BC, Hippocrates medically recorded a ‘grey scale of gender’ which he ordered into a ‘gender hierarchy’ in the seminal work The Hippocratic Corpus.
“Hippocrates was very vocal about the fact that there weren’t just two boxes in terms of [gender]. He laid out a spectrum of gender which he ordered into three categories of male and three categories of female,” Xora explained. “He very clearly marks out the middle categories as transgender, or intersex, and he calls people like me in those categories ‘androgynes’.”
The very word ‘androgynous’ from the ancient Greek ‘andrógunos’ combines both male and female terms, with the implicit understanding that it is possible for humans to exist in a non-binary gendered state.
Centuries later, Xora says, the Roman philosopher and physician Galen was discussing the ideas of ‘transgender shifts’ and a ‘third sex’ of intersex people. While he and his peers conceptualised this in mythological terms, it’s clear they understood that sex and gender can be fluid, and that they exist on a spectrum.
“Rowling’s idea of biological sex is something which is a black box and white box, and that’s immutable,” Xora said, adding that for many who claim to be gender critical, “anyone who’s trying to veer from those traditional binary boxes is somehow either seeking attention or is lying and a pervert… And that’s just such a huge lie.”
“We can’t keep ignoring history. We can’t keep ignoring biology. We can’t keep ignoring the lives of people like me.”
‘JK Rowling, do your research.’
Although scientific teachings have moved far beyond Greek and Roman times, the fact that these ancient thinkers knew and understood transgender and intersex people suggests that the gender spectrum exists as a fundamental part of the human experience.
To reduce sex and gender to a binary is to deny the lived experience of the countless trans and intersex people throughout history, Xora says.
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Now, as she tears up her contract and demands her scenes be removed from Rowling’s park, she has a simple message to the author: “Please, do your research.”
“Please stop supporting people who are making our lives way more difficult than they need to be. They’re endangering our lives,” she adds. “You shouldn’t be misgendering us, you should be listening to us. And you should be accepting who we are from the inside out.”
JK Rowling declined to comment. PinkNews has also contacted Universal Orlando for comment.
Xora has an upcoming showcase of her transgender and intersex art at the Pitt Rivers Museum in the University of Oxford, which forms part of a year-long exhibition funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund called Beyond The Binary.