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Harry Potter and the TERFS: fans and feminists take on the British-colonial hate economy

A post written by Gini Jory, based on an ANTH424 assignment.

In June this year, at the beginning of pride month and during global BLM protests, JK Rowling disappointed her fans yet again by outing herself as a TERF- a trans exclusionary radical feminist. She posted a tweet mocking an article about ‘people who menstruate’ saying: “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”[1] Online audiences pointed out this was anti-trans, as not all women menstruate and some men do. Others noted this as the latest in a line of anti-trans tweets Rowling had recently published.

The beginning of JK Rowling’s anti-trans tweet tirade, mocking the term “people who menstruate” and talking about the importance of biological sex. From

In response, as well as follow-up tweets, she published a defensive 3600 word essay to her website saying she “knows and loves trans people” but doesn’t want them to invalidate her lived experience as a woman, and doesn’t want them in women-only spaces where women should feel safe.[2] Unfortunately for transgender people, this hate is nothing new, and is increasingly common, particularly in the UK. This transphobia has very real consequences, with high numbers of attempted suicide and hate crimes that can and do lead to death. In 2019, 331 trans people were killed globally.[3] This is due to systemic hate – as this blog explores, using Sarah Ahmed’s idea of hate ‘economies’ to explore the links between seemingly innocuous online comments, and a longer history of violence of both literal and representational forms.

A quick background to TERF Ideology

The phrase TERF -trans exclusionary radical
feminist- has come to designate all feminists who oppose trans rights and inclusion in the feminist community. While originally intended as a descriptor, it has been seen as a slur by some it is applied to.[4]

Anti-trans sentiments in feminist communities have been around since second wave feminism in the 1970s. The stance now referred to as TERF has been attributed (not singularly, but perhaps as the best known example) to the 1979 book The Transsexual Empire by Janice Raymond, who stated that gender is an expression of biological sex, which is chromosomally dependant. She stressed the impossibility of changing chromosomal sex, and therefore gender and sex are decided at birth and cannot change. Because of this, Raymond views male-to-female transition as an act of the male patriarchy, meaning that in her view, trans women are not and can not ever be ‘real’ women.[5]

This position has been reinforced by trans exclusionary feminist academics, while trans activists and scholars note the impact of this publication in feminist circles. And this perspective has certainly created a divide, with many feminists, particularly in the UK, now framing trans rights as being in direct conflict with women’s rights. To trans exclusionary feminists, trans men are women and trans women are still men, and are therefore invaders in women’s spaces.

Transphobia in British feminist communities: a legacy of colonialism

TERF ideology is extremely prolific in the UK. This appears to be for several reasons; While other countries such as America have experienced mass movements over the last 30 years surrounding globalisation, police brutality, race, gender and class, the UK has experienced far less of these protests. This means middle and upper-class white feminists have not had their privilege questioned by black and indigenous feminists as their American counterparts have, and so have retained their credibility and influence.

Feminists hold an anti-TERF sign, outside a Labour Party event in which TERFS were participating, in London, March 2020. Attribution: Charles Hutchins. Source:

There is also a long history of British feminism intertwining with Colonialism. The British Empire enforced heterosexuality and the gender binary on indigenous communities at a policy level, constructing the racial ‘other’ as not only fundamentally inferior, but also as a sexual menace because of their gender variance from perceived ‘biological realities’. It is this enforcement of the binary that Trans exclusionary feminists continue to impose. It should be noted that Irish feminists have rejected British TERF ideologies specifically because of their experiences under British Colonialism.[6]

This transphobia, a hatred and fear of trans bodies and their variations to the gender norm have been expressed in many ways. Notably there have been debates and protests over the use of single-sex spaces – women’s bathrooms and the Ponds in London.[7] (Trans people’s use of single-sex spaces is legally protected under the 2010 Equality Act.) These incidents come back to the perspective that trans women are still men, and are therefore forcing themselves on women in these spaces, an act which some TERFs have likened to rape. This violent language creates fear and paranoia, making trans people something “other” to be afraid of. This has led to sensationalised cases of ‘gender fraud’ in the media, where people have been convicted of hiding their gender from partners.

The power of paper and screen

I would argue that mainstream media in general is responsible in part for this narrative. As discussed in the 2020 documentary Disclosure, which is about trans people in media, films about trans people have historically shown the partner discovering their lover has the ‘wrong’ genitals and breaking down, even vomiting in reaction.[8] This validates TERF perspectives of trans women having something to hide, of lying and being predatory villains, in the acceptable mainstream.

In 2018 TERFs got more airtime than ever as the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 was reviewed. At the time, the GRA required a years long medicalised process to ‘prove’ a person was trans. Recommended reforms encompassed inclusion of trans youth, no medical diagnosis and the ability to self -identify through a more streamlined process.[9] High-ranking TERF Journalists such as Suzanne More and Julie Burchill wrote anti-trans pieces which spread throughout the UK media. These focused on the ‘taking away’ of women’s rights and the fear that violent men would be able to simply say they were a woman and be legally allowed in woman-only spaces.

While this seems convoluted and is a misrepresentation of the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate, the idea took off with progressive papers such as the Guardian publishing anti-trans pieces. Because of this backlash, the GRA was never updated. The relationship between these different institutions – media, legal system, and medicine, worked together to enact powerful restrictions over the bodies, and bureaucratic self-representations, of trans people.

Hated Bodies

British-Australian feminist scholar Sara Ahmed discusses how hate works through bodies in The Organisation of Hate.[10] She argues for emotions as a sort of economy, meaning they carry transferable value. In this way, when an act of hate occurs, such as a transphobic hate crime, the value of the emotion is passed from the aggressor to the victim. The hate is transferred, and so the victim becomes the hated, and the hatred is amplified the more people project it.

This is certainly something that happens to trans women in feminist communities, and even in LGBT+ feminist spaces. At the Dyke March London in 2014, a trans woman speaker was protested, with TERFs proclaiming her a man taking over an event for women and forcing Lesbians to accept the penis, essentially stripping them of their female lesbian identity. Through this act of hate, by refusing to see her as a woman they disallow her to sexually identify as a Lesbian. This takes away huge aspects of this woman’s personhood, due to the perceived male aspects of her body.

Statistics show that 48% of trans people in the UK have attempted suicide and 84% have thought about it. This follows 65% experiencing discrimination or harassment for being trans, and 41% being attacked or threatened in the last five years.[11] These figures are a staggering reflection not only of the hate trans people receive, but how they hate themselves… with Ahmed’s idea of the economy of hate providing a framework for seeing this as transferred, rather than inherent. Not a specific quality of trans bodies, but projected onto or attached to them over time, through historically contingent, and repeated social processes (that include media representations and social media conversations).

Ahmed specifically discusses how the circulation of hate works on the collective bodies of a specific group, by creating a crisis narrative. What TERFs seem to fear most is that a trans woman may be among them without them realising. By framing cis women as victims of trans rights, TERFs make trans women- and their literal bodies- the enemy, and to progress this they have adopted a narrative of violent bathroom attacks in these ‘safe’ single-sex spaces.

A recent study has shown this fear is untrue, and there is no correlation between trans inclusiveness and bathroom safety.[12] Yet this narrative persists, because it projects hate onto trans women. Their bodies have become literal political battle grounds where they fight for the right to simply exist, and to access basic public facilities.

Trans activism in the wake of JK Rowling’s comments

There are, of course, counter-forces to this hatred.  Activism by trans people and their allies has continued in response to J K Rowling’s online comments, and after the even more recent announcement that her new crime fiction book, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, features a male killer who dresses up as a woman to kill his victims. It should be noted that Robert Galbraith Heath was the name of one of the earliest psychiatrists to experiment with gay conversion therapy. Although many have seen this as a coincidence, and JK Rowling has denied any connection.

A recent tweet from Munroe Bergdorf’s Twitter account.

Trans activist and model Munroe Bergdorf, who was in 2014 described as “a cornerstone of London’s trans scene” by the London Evening Standard and was the first trans model for L’Oreal in 2017[13] has been extremely active in her responses on Twitter, offering support for her trans followers, and giving suggestions of what people can do to support the trans community.

Thread from Munroe Bergdorf’s twitter account after JK Rowling’s tweets and essay in July. From

“If transphobia is the future of @jk_rowling’s legacy, it’s not going to age well. In writing transphobic FICTION under the pseudonym of a gay conversion therapist, where the overarching moral seems to be ‘never trust a man in a dress’ she is revealing exactly who she is… The REALITY is that trans people are more likely to be murdered, than commit murder. The REALITY is that trans people are already navigating a hostile environment worldwide and this only adds to that hostility. @jk_rowling is dangerous.”[14]

Mermaids, a LGBTQ+ charity that supports trans and gender diverse youth has also called for JK Rowling to think about the impact her statements are having on trans youth. “Trans people are far from being accepted by society and suffer real life discrimination, including physical violence, employment discrimination and everyday harassment on the street. Trans young people should not be used to amplify separate issues such as male violence, bodily autonomy or patriarchy.”[15]

Trans actress and artist Ela Xora who had a filmed role for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park has ripped up her contract and demanded that her scenes are removed from the park in retaliation to JK Rowling’s stance,[16] and many of the crew of the films including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, as well as Noma Dumezweni, who played Hermione in the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have released statements in support of trans people on their social media platforms.[17]

Being (and buying) better

In 2015, the Smithsonian published an article called “Reading Harry Potter may make you a better person,” which stated that people who read the books grew up to be more tolerant and accepting as adults, based on an Italian study.[20] It seems to me now, that perhaps that is still true, as fans have been vocal in calling JK Rowling out for her transphobia.

Many are now feeling disillusioned with the franchise, which, for many of us, was a large part of our childhood and formative years, and helped mould us into the people we are today. It is extremely difficult to separate the author from her works (if that should even be done at all) and has for many tainted something that had a large impact on our lives. I know that myself and many friends will no longer be buying merchandise, or supporting any of JK Rowlings new books or projects, Harry Potter related or not, and some friends are getting rid of all their Potter memorabilia. Fan sites have announced they will no longer discuss JK Rowling or her career.[18]

Fans online are calling for people to email the publishers of her Galbraith novel to let them know that they will not be supporting a company publishing transphobic material, and noting the dissonance between the company publishing such works and also having a Pride feature on their front page showing all the queer and trans novels they publish.[19]

Trans women are women, despite what TERFs will tell you. People like JK Rowling will continue to spout their sex-based hate. But as activists and fans alike are showing, if hate is economic, we can refuse to buy it.


[1] Jamieson, Amber. 2020. “JK Rowling Followed up her Anti-trans tweets with a full Anti-trans Essay.” Accessed 25 July 2020 at:

[2] Rowling, Jk. 2020. “JK Rowling Writes about her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues.” Accessed 25 July 2020 at:

[3]Wareham, Jamie. 2019. “ Murdered, Hanged and Lynched: 331 Trans People Killed this Year.” Accessed 25 July 2020 at:

[4] Hines, Sally. 2019. “The Feminist Frontier: on trans and Feminism” Journal of Gender Studies. 28:2. p.145-157.

[5] Raymond, Janice. 1979. The Transexual Empire: The Making of the She-male. United States: Beacon Press.

[6] Lewis, Sophie. 2019. “How British feminism Became Anti-Trans.” Accessed 27 July 2020 at:

[7] Ewens, Hannah. 2020. “Inside the Great British TERF War” Accessed 27 July 2020 at:

[8] Feder, Sam. dir. 2020. Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen. Los Angeles: Bow and Arrow Entertainment. Netflix.

[9] Miles, Laura. 2018. “Updating the Gender Recognition Act: trans oppression, moral panics and implications for social work. Critical and Radical Social Work. 6:1. p. 93-106.

[10] Ahmed, Sara. 2004. “The Organisation of Hate.” In The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

[11] Stonewall. date unknown. “Trans Key Stats”. Accessed 29 July 2020 at:

[12] Moreau, Julie. 2018. “No Link between trans-inclusive policies and bathroom safety, study finds.” Accessed 30 July 2020 at:

[13] Wikipedia. Last updated 7 September 2020. “Munroe Bergdorf.” Accessed 20 September 2020 at:

[14] Bergdorf, Munroe. 2020. “Twitter thread.” Accessed 20 September 2020 at:

[15] Mermaids. 2020. “A call to JK Rowling.” Accessed 17 September 2020 at:

[16] Maurice, Emma. 2020. “Trans Harry Potter actor rips up her contract and demands JK Rowling pays attention to thousands of years of transgender history.” Accessed 30 July at:

[17] Lenker, Maureen. 2020. “Every Harry Potter actor who’s spoken out against JK Rowling’s Controversial Trans Comments.” Accessed 20 September at:

[18] Murphy, J. Kim. 2020. “’Harry Potter’ Fan Sites will Minimise Future J.K. Rowling Coverage after Condeming Anti- Trans Views. Accessed 20 September 2020 at:

[19] untitled Tumblr post. 2020. Accessed 20 September 2020 at:

[20] Lewis, Danny. 2015. “Reading Harry Potter Might Make you a Better Person.” Accessed 20 September 2020 at:

Incels ‘cash out’: gendered violence and the economies of hate

A post written by Jazzlin Carr, based on an ANTH424 assignment.

“He doesn’t seem like that bad of a guy. He just seems hurt, like he just wants a friend or support. I always thought incels were really bad people, but he seems like a good version of them.”

I looked over at my very liberal, ultra-feminist, Jacinda Ardern-loving partner in disbelief. We had just finished watching a YouTube video from the channel Jubilee entitled “I’m An Incel. Ask Me Anything.”.[1] The short clip features a self-proclaimed incel responding to questions from the public. While his identity is hidden from those asking the questions, he is shown to the camera.

A screenshot of the Youtube video “I’m an Incel, Ask Me Anything” posted by Jubilee. In this particular frame, a woman appears to be pointedly interrogating an incel named Derrick, whose demeanour and open palms facing up depict a certain passivity and openness. Source:

An incel, otherwise known as an “involuntary celibate”, is a self-imposed label used by mostly young males who define themselves by their inability to secure romantic or sexual partners despite having the desire for them, often attributing this to their anxious or shy behaviours, women’s high standards, or their unattractiveness or below-average characteristics. [2] They are most often found in online forums, where discussions are often characterized by self-loathing, resentment of more attractive males (known as “Chads”), and misogyny.

This definition, however, is fluid depending on who you ask. As one incel claims in his blog, anyone can be an incel “as long as they show signs of […] struggling with attaining romantic relationships”. [3] Others, myself included, would characterize the self-radicalizing nature of incel communities as a key part of the definition. Take a scroll through one of the few incel chatrooms that have not been blacklisted from internet servers and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single discussion that does not dehumanize women, promote racist ideologies, encourage violence, or celebrate incels who have murdered women out of spite. [4]

You may not have assumed such a thing if your only portrayal of incels is from the Jubilee video I noted above. The incel featured, named Derrick, coolly responds to a variety of questions. He reacts to leading questions with calmness and ensures the interviewers that he is there “to give more of a positive light on [the incel] community”. He discusses his mindset, believing that “promiscuity leads to increased standards in more primitive aspects such as looks and that typically makes it harder for some people to find relationships” and generalizes this to cities such as “[Los Angeles] or London, or in Auckland, New Zealand”. He notes that it was “constant years of rejection” that led him to more “radical beliefs” which he equates to “old beliefs”. It is also noteworthy that he was very quick to say that he condemns the actions of mass murders identifying as incels. Instead, he thinks “the reason why they committed those actions was […] desperation, or […] mental problems.”. When watching the video again, I can understand where my partner’s empathy to Derrick comes from. His demure presence, calm responses, and position as a “traditionalist” who has been hurt time after time again presents a convincing case towards justifying the incel perspective as a matter of difference of opinions, or a wounded community seeking internal support.

But what is the actual impact of this point of view, on the lives and bodies of women? I turn to the writing of British-Australian scholar, Sara Ahmed, to explore this:

“It is the failure of hate to be located in a given object or figure, which allows it to generate the effects that it does” (2004, p49). 

In her book The Cultural Politics of Emotion, author Sara Ahmed discusses the organization of hate, and considers its circulation as both a defence mechanism for those who see another body as a threat to something they love, as well as its impacts on the figures who have been aligned by the narrative of hate as the “common enemy”. [5]

Her analysis seemed fitting for this topic and applying it to the performance of incels has me wonder if it may clarify why Derrick’s narrative could almost seem, dare I say, justified.

In a chapter on hate, Ahmed’s overarching theme is that hate operates as a sort of economy. Essentially, hate is fluid and moves between bodies and signs, and is not fixed on one subject. If an incel posts a rant on a chatroom about his displeasure with a woman who rejected him that day, the specific woman involved is simply a “nodal point in the economy”. The hate has another origin and destination, one which is more broadly connected to the perceived threat towards something the incel desires. In this instance, it may be their desire for a relationship and feeling loved. From this perspective, the hate’s origin was not in the encounter with the individual woman, but rather in years of rejection. The destination of that hate is not towards her, but rather, to a common body of women which the incel deems as a threat to ‘traditional’ relationships that they wish to participate in, but feel they are blocked from. In this example, we see how an incels hate is economic.

It is this inability of hate to be fixated that allows it to grow and fester in these groups. The vagueness of the enemy allows for particular narratives to be applied to any individual who may appear to be a part of that group.  In the case of the incels, any woman could therefore fit the narrative as being a threat to traditional relationships.

But how does this economy of hate affect the bodies of the group considered a “threat”?

“There can, in fact, be no hatred until there has been long-continued frustration and disappointment” (Glenn Allport, in The Nature of Prejudice, quoted by Ahmed 2004, p50). 

Derricks relatively innocuous comments contribute to the investment of hate towards women by furthering a narrative that their desire for more liberal roles and modern lifestyles is raising their expectations of men to the extreme, so that more traditional or less attractive men can no longer find relationships or love. For one, it is rhetoric that seals female bodies as objects of hate. This kickstarts a chain of effects that promote and support violence. It contributes to real physiological symptoms for those who must live in these bodies in a number of broader ways too. This is evident in the below photo, selected by Stuff for its news article on the event in 2015, which depicts the consequences of incel behavior on women who are not direct victims of its violence, who instead may suffer from fear, post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares and anxiety

Two women comfort each other following the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. This attack killed 10 and injured eight others. The attacker was an incel, who expressed sexual frustration and blamed women’s standards for his virginity at age 26. Credit: Steve Dipaola/Reuters. Source:

If hate is an economy, it also performs as a form of capital. The effect of an incel’s hate does not reside solely in the individual object of their displeasure, but rather accumulates over time. I would take Ahmed’s imagery of hate as an economy a step further, and argue that is when these investments pile up and a member of the threatened community tries to “cash out” on this accumulated capital of hate that violence is used as a defence against the hated bodies. The collection of testimonies of rejection, frustration, and disappointment found on these incel chat rooms becomes so overwhelming that an incel feels justified in reacting with violence, in the same way as a person who has accumulated savings may feel enticed to splurge with the surplus.

The investment of hate on these chatrooms is made evident in the justification of violence on  women when researching any of the major incel-led terror attacks of the past couple decades. After a one self-described incel posted a 137-page manifesto to a chatroom in 2014, he would thereafter kill six people and wound fourteen more in Isla Vista, California. The reaction from the online incel community was one of praise; his face quickly photoshopped onto Christian icons, and his name being associated as the “primary incel ‘saint’”, a reflection of how they believed he was the saviour of incel values. [6] In 2015, an incel in Oregon shot and killed nine classmates and a professor, and injured eight others, in what he described in his manifesto as the reaction of his frustrations to being a virgin at 26. The reaction from the incel community was one of support and empathy, with one user commenting a poem, reading “society failed him/it’s not his fault/don’t blame him/he was the hero we deserved.”. [7]

A screenshot taken from an incel forum in August 2020. The commentator notes how the van attack in Toronto was “lifefuel” for them. They go on to note preferred methods of killing in “ER” attacks, a popular incel abbreviation for violent attacks. “ER” is a reference to the initials of the “Saint” of the incel community, the Isla Vista killer. Source:

In 2018, an incel in Toronto, Ontario used a rented van to kill ten victims and injure an additional sixteen, as a form of revenge for perceived sexual rejection from women. Most clearly evidencing the use of hate as capital for the incel community, one commentator on a chatroom posted “This shit right here is lifefuel for me”. [1]

A photo (taken 24 April 2018) of the impromptu memorial created by local residents after the Toronto Van Attack, where a man drove along the sidewalk for 2 kilometers, purposefully hitting as many pedestrians as it could. The perpetrator posted on his Facebook account shortly before the attack, with a statement referencing a man considered to be the “Saint” of incels. Credit: Quentin9906. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The original quote from my partner, that opened this blog, shows how important it is to grasp the economy of hate. Even though my partner did not agree with Derrick’s views, the empathy he felt for him could be a slippery slope into justifying the mindset of an incel, thus giving their alignment of female bodies as a threat imagined ground.

The accumulation and investment of this hate is what contributes to not only the everyday pain and victimization of women but leads to the in-group justification of violent expressions of hate, performed in terror attacks such as those mentioned above. In recognizing the performance of hate as an economy, one can work to actively question its impacts and limit the influence one perspective may have on the incel community.




[1] I’m An Incel. Ask Me Anything. (2019). YouTube. Available at:

[2] Opinion | Men are in trouble. ‘Incels’ are proof. [online] Washington Post. Available at:

[3] SeventhQueen (2020). The Incel Among Us. [online] Incel Blog. Available at:

[4] Inceldom Discussion [Online] Source:

[5] Ahmed, S. (2015). The cultural politics of emotion. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

[6] Beauchamp, Z. (2019). Incels: a definition and investigation into a dark internet corner. [online] Vox. Available at:

[7] (n.d.). ‘Beta Males’ Want To Kill Women Because They Can’t Get Laid. [online] Available at:

[8] We Hunted The Mammoth. (2018). Incels hail Toronto van driver who killed 10 as a new Elliot Rodger, talk of future acid attacks and mass rapes [UPDATED]. [online] Available at: