Unfollowing them is the least you can do
If you’ve been keeping an eye on J K Rowling you’ll have known that she is transphobic for some time. Her tweets in defence of Maya Forstater made this clear, as have various other comments and hints over the years. She has recently confirmed this in a spectacularly awful fashion with an essay supposedly in her own defence on her website. I have not read this, nor do I intend to. I take the word of my trans siblings, and don’t want to give her more hits which she can use to bolster claims that her opinions are popular.
Graham Linehan is maybe the most famous transphobe on Twitter. Amusingly noted as a ‘former’ comedy writer, he has made a full-time hobby of spreading vile hate online directed at trans people, and anyone who stands up for them. He almost incessantly reveals himself to hold the worst and most harmful views about trans people and trans rights.
What do these two have in common beyond their hateful views? You’re probably still following them. They are both benefiting from long careers creating greatly-loved cultural content, and are using this love of their work to maintain support despite their actions. ‘Using’ is perhaps the wrong word, as it implies action on their part, when really it is a sign of inaction and passivity on your part. I love Graham Linehan’s work. Father Ted has always been a favourite of mine, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve binged my way through The IT Crowd. J K Rowling is the author of arguably the most successful children’s book series ever. Let’s be clear now: no one is saying that you can’t like their output anymore. There have been some heartening defences (more on this later) of the value of the Harry Potter series, which rely on the concept of the death of the author to show that it is how you receive a book, not authorial intent, that matters most.
What I will argue is that there is no need to continue supporting these creators in a sphere where they use their platforms to spread hateful and damaging ideas. Linehan is perhaps becoming marginalised (I can’t remember the last time he produced a new show), but J K Rowling holds huge sway, and that she chooses to use her power to attack one of our most vulnerable communities is utterly unforgivable. That she chose to voice these opinions in the midst of an incredibly important moment for dismantling racism against black people is an unsurprising move from a white woman and a movement that frequently seeks to centre white women and their feelings in any and every debate. Make no mistake, there will be people who didn’t give two thoughts to trans rights, or who were completely open to supporting them, whose minds will have been changed for the worse by J K Rowling’s statements.
A notable difference between the two is the considerable and outspoken backlash Rowling has received from those most closely involved with her work. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Eddie Redmayne, and a score of other Harry Potter actors have vocally criticised her, and declared their support for the trans community. Many of these responses have offered comfort to fans that their feelings and love for the Harry Potter books should not be tarnished by Rowling’s views. That so many actors from a younger generation have made their views and support so open offers hope that the issue is a generational one, and that younger people are less likely to fall in line with such harmful ideologies. It is great that those who might have been swayed by Rowling’s statement now have such a loud, logical, and empathetic counter-argument to consider before making up their minds.
By contrast, few of the actors involved in Linehan’s projects have spoken out about this hateful views and actions, even though his are in some ways more extreme than Rowling’s. I hope that one outcome of this whole incident will be that others who are tacitly enabling such behaviour will take a long, hard look at themselves and the good or harm that their voices versus their silence might achieve.
This includes us as an audience. We may feel powerless and removed from the celebrity circles in which this argument is being held, but as consumers we make numerous choices every day that can impact on the direction of our culture. In a time where we are increasingly aware of performative versus active allyship, why are so many of us still following Rowling and Linehan? Because we liked a thing they did once? A Twitter follow, whether we like it or not, reads as support, and if you follow these people you are telling them that you don’t mind their views, and you are telling the trans community that you care more about a TV show you once watched than you do about their actual human rights. What exactly do you think you’ll miss out on? Linehan’s tweets have been exclusively hate for years, and the ‘best’ you’re likely to miss from Rowling is a weird pronouncement about how wizards used to poop, or a whitewashing of her decidedly not-inclusive stories. Does this really matter more than a show of support for our trans siblings?
Do yourself and the world a favour, and stop following Rowling and Lineham immediately, and start following people and groups that actively support trans people and their rights. Mermaids, Munroe Bergdorf, and Christine Burns are good places to start. Removing hate from your timeline, and no longer tacitly supporting those who spew it, is literally the least you can do.