J.K. Rowling Used to Want to Debate Gender. Now She Just Insults Trans People

“You’ve seen nothing yet,” tweeted Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling on Sunday. She was responding to another X user who had told her, “Your downfall is so sad,” a reaction to her continued attacks on transgender people. Rowling promised that worse was in store. “Wait til I hit rock bottom. It’s going to be spectacular,” she wrote.

This prediction, and much of what Rowling has said of late, are altogether in keeping with what denizens of X (formerly Twitter) refer to as “Meltdown May,” a month-long season when, for whatever reason, online personalities seem more inclined to self-destructive behavior. Yet for Rowling this is just the next stage of a mounting extremism that has come to overshadow her groundbreaking writing career.

Since 2018, Rowling has shown an affinity for anti-trans influencers and helped to stoke panic over changing norms around gender identity and language. Notably, she used to couch her criticism in a “live and let live” frame, cautioning that while she had no problem with trans individuals per se, she feared that trans women posed a privacy and safety risk to cisgender women in female-only spaces. When defending a U.K. researcher whose employment contract was not renewed at a think tank after her online anti-trans activism came to light in 2019, Rowling still prefaced her supportive tweet by saying that people should dress and identify however they want while living their “best life in peace and security.” In 2020, she claimed to “know and love trans people.”

In the past year, that note of tolerance has vanished from Rowling’s public comments on trans women — and she now tweets about little else, whether proclaiming that she’d go to prison before using their correct pronouns or simply misgendering specific individuals online because she can. The recent “downfall” reply that irked her was in response to her insistence that Lucy Clark, the first openly trans soccer manager in the top English women’s divisions of the sport, is actually a “bloke.” Using her massive platform to direct hate and harassment at Clark, a woman who has done nothing but succeed professionally with the support of her family and team, struck many on social media as cruel. One of Rowling’s tweets misgendering Clark racked up more than 400,000 likes and nods of approval from far-right accounts including @EndWokeness.

These ongoing controversies have driven a wedge between Rowling and fellow creatives, including Harry Potter actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson. Radcliffe said in an Atlantic profile published two weeks ago that it was “really sad” how he and Rowling had ceased contact in 2020, after he spoke up on behalf of the trans community because of her increasing vitriol.

Not only that, Rowling’s anti-trans tirades have worn thin with would-be allies, including Elon Musk. The owner of X — who has liked, shared, and posted plenty of transphobic material himself and is estranged from his trans daughter — was compelled earlier this month to request that Rowling lighten up a bit, despite their alignment on the issue. “While I heartily agree with your points regarding sex/gender, may I suggest also posting interesting and positive content on other matters?” Musk asked in response to Rowling’s pinned tweet from a month prior, which explained why she believes trans women pose a danger in women’s spaces. (Evidence suggests trans people are more likely to be the victims of violence than cisgender individuals.) The next day, Rowling shared an innocuous interview she’d given about her writing process, quipping that the tweet “should in no way be interpreted as me doing as I’m told.”

The respite didn’t last long, however, and Rowling posted more than 30 tweets in the next week either arguing that women’s spaces are made unsafe by trans inclusivity, deliberately misgendering trans women, or otherwise fighting with anyone who challenged her ideas on gender. This culminated with the Lucy Clark incident, which then saw Rowling escalate into a rage over accusations that she had bullied the soccer manager. “Crossdressing straight men are currently one of the most pandered-to demographics,” she fumed at one point, surely distorting the lived reality of marginalization and prejudice many trans women face. This was a bridge too far for New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait, someone known to express his own skepticism of youth gender care. He advised Rowling, “Just call people what they want to be called. It’s basic decency.” Rowling dismissed the remark as sexist and condescending.

She didn’t stop there, however. While sparring with an X user whose bio indicates that they are 17 years old, Rowling spun out a bizarre hypothetical about whether she would “get to be black if I like Motown and fancy myself in cornrows.” The parallel drew widespread allegations of racism, with Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times journalist behind the Pulitzer-winning 1619 Project, warning: “Stop using Black people as your comparison group because it almost always reveals more about you than you think it does.”

Rowling’s manic posting and deranged rhetoric, her toxic social feed (a veritable who’s who of “gender critical” types), her newfound proximity to dangerous extremists (Chaya Raichik, who runs the transphobic hate account Libs of TikTok, has lately started tagging and replying to her), her sharing of material from dubious groups such as the Gay Men’s Network (which frames “gender identity ideology” as a type of “homophobia”) and her inability to stop denouncing people like Clark as if they are misogynists and predators all point to an obsession that has only grown stronger over time. What was once a trickle of worrying hints is now a torrent of abuse.

Really, the Musk interaction says it all. If a guy who amplifies Libs of TikTok daily and genuinely believes “cisgender” is a slur thinks you need to cut back on hours spent in the fog of your anti-trans agenda, you’re already past far gone. That, alas, is often the path of the online reactionary — when your opinion receives pushback, you dig in, and the need to feel that you have vanquished all opponents becomes addictive. Soon enough, no matter your wealth or work or celebrity, there is nothing else left.