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JK Rowling’s new book sparks fierce debate as to whether or not Silence of the Lambs is transphobic

Reiss Smith September 15, 2020
JK Rowling and the Silence of the Lambs poster, which is a tight crop of Jodie Foster, her face washed out, with a moth covering her mouth

JK Rowling has prompted debate on Silence of the Lambs. (Getty/Orion)

JK Rowling has released a new book which, in an unexpected turn of events, has put Silence of the Lambs under the spotlight.

Troubled Blood, the fifth book released under Rowling’s Robert Galbraith pseudonym, has earned the author heavy criticism after an early review revealed it includes a “cross-dressing serial killer”.

Immediately, comparisons were drawn between the 900-page tome and Silence of the Lambs, the 1988 Thomas Harris novel that introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter.

Both the book and its multi-Oscar winning adaptation follow FBI trainee Clarice Starling as she investigates a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill, who murders women and fashions their skin into a “woman suit”.

Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.
Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. (Orion)

Supporters of Rowling are using Lambs as a defence against criticism of Troubled Blood, arguing that if her book is to be condemned, so too must Harris’.

Some have argued that Harris escapes criticism because he is a man, painting the backlash against Rowling as one of misogyny. However critics of the Harry Potter author note that the differing context of both books.

As writer Jeanna Louise Skinner noted, the argument that Silence of the Lambs suffered no backlash of its own is “disingenuous” being that when its movie adaptation was nominated at the 1992 Oscars, there were huge protests outside of the ceremony venue from LGBT+ groups.

Many pointed out the difference in expectations for a book released in 2020 versus one released in 1988.

YouTuber Kat Blaque summed up the debate with a succinct take: that the ‘trope of a man dressing as a woman and killing women… has been done to death’.

Over the decades there has been much debate on whether Silence of the Lambs is transphobic.

In the book Lecter states that “Billy’s not [transgender]… but he thinks he is, he tries to be”, which has been interpreted in various ways.

However one thing Lambs makes clear, via Clarice, is that “there’s no correlation… between [being trans] and violence”.

Troubled Blood first made headlines following a Telegraph review which described it as one “whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress”.

The crime novel is the author’s first adult release since her “TERF wars” essay, which set out her position on trans rights to the disdain of many in the trans community.

More: JK Rowling, Silence of the Lambs

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