Betrayal

EXCLUSIVE: Jake Graf calls JK Rowling’s anti-trans comments “cruel and irresponsible”

Jake Graf & Hannah Winterbourne. Via Twitter

Jake Graf doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

The British writer, director, actor and activist has helped raise the profile of transgender people within the UK and abroad through his work behind the camera on the films Chance and Dusk, as well as with his roles in high-profile films like Colette, where he played a cisgender man.

Alongside his wife, army engineer Hannah Winterbourne–the highest-ranking transgender officer in the UK armed forces–Graf has worked to change attitudes toward transgender people on both sides of the Atlantic. This year, he and Hannah also announced they are expecting their first child together through surrogacy.

On the heels of JK Rowling’s derisive comments about transgender people, Queerty reached out to Graf for his response to her perplexing and painful words, which only added to the hostility trans people in the UK and beyond are experiencing.

I’ve always thought of Ms. Rowling as a friend to the queer community, so I find her comments stunning. 

I think we were all a little surprised that JK came out in support of Maya Forstater, a woman deemed by a judge to have absolutist views that she would happily assert regardless of it creating an intimidating, degrading and hostile work environment. It was that which resulted in Ms. Forstater’s contract not being renewed, as opposed to her stating that ‘sex is real’, as was widely misrepresented by JK amongst others.

Related: The mysterious case of J.K. Rowling & her transphobic Twitter history

JK’s tweet in support of a transphobe would have been hurtful from anyone, but the community felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment and betrayal because those words came from a writer whose characters fight for those who are different and strive for an equal society. That JK deemed it acceptable to effectively attack and vilify the most vulnerable section of the LGBTQ community felt cruel and irresponsible. Given that trans women are so frequently murdered simply for being themselves, the mind boggles that anyone with such a powerful voice would seek to create an environment in which that problem is exacerbated.

My wife was a much bigger fan of JK’s than me, having read Harry Potter throughout her childhood. As a transwoman, she had found a much-needed sense of escapism when immersed in the world of Hogwarts. It was heartbreaking to see her so upset and confused at last week’s tweet, as she had long anticipated the day when she could share that experience with her own children, a desire which now feels marred for her. For women like Hannah, it is just one more blow to an already bruised and battered sense of self.

Does this hurt her brand or image as an author?

Her image within the LGBTQ community has certainly suffered. I think many looked up to her as a supporter and ally, someone who sought to encourage our children and young folk to be accepting and understanding of difference in all its many forms. However, it is unlikely that our hurt will be felt outside of the LGBTQ sphere. Unfortunately it seems that JK and the Harry Potter franchise have a level of popularity that makes them beyond reproach.

Should Warner Bros. or her other Hollywood associates denounce her words? How should they react?

I would hope that there is enough kindness, acceptance and support within Hollywood that many will take issue with her views, however the ‘debate’ around trans people’s existence, rights and safety remains one of the last bastions of bigotry seemingly acceptable within civilized society. We have already seen a number of individuals willing to speak out against JK, but I think that for many it is a battle from which they would rather maintain a distance.

This year has seen a number of high profile Brits like Rowling (Dame Edna also comes to mind) making transphobic comments. I’m aware of the ugly protests at London Pride last year.

Three years ago, there were proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, the piece of legislation that governs the mechanism by which someone legally changes gender in the UK.

This was initially a positive step for transgender people in the UK, but quickly led to a small minority of anti-trans individuals waging a war against us, with the support of media outlets that we could only dream of. This started a campaign of misinformation and lies which has been steadily growing in volume, reaching fever pitch over the last two years. Trans children, charities and families all suddenly found themselves in the firing line. That revitalized wave of transphobia, combined with the divisive climate around Brexit and the lurch towards populism have created a truly toxic environment for transgender people in the UK which shows no signs of letting up.

One last thing: with this growing, hostile climate, what’s the best thing people can do to push back against transphobia in the UK? How can those of us who are cisgender or who live in the States help?
Trans people are facing daily onslaughts in the UK right now. Mermaids, the UK’s foremost charity supporting trans children and their families, sees weekly attacks from several of the more right-wing newspapers, using kids’ safety and mental health as clickbait. Trans women are portrayed as predators, deviants or as mentally ill. Trans men remain largely invisible, worryingly absent for our younger generation of trans masculine folk.
We don’t know when this worrying and dangerous backlash will end, but what we do know is that as one of the smallest and most vilified minorities out there, we need our allies if we are to survive. It is estimated that transgender folk make up around 0.1% of society and that only 8% of Americans have knowingly met someone transgender. That lack of numbers means that we need our allies to call out transphobia online or elsewhere, to challenge the casual throwaway use of the word ‘tranny’ and to speak out when we’re once again being degraded behind our backs.
In short, we need our allies to understand that without their help we cannot win this fight and for those who would seek to eradicate us, to kindly remember that we are all humans and that we are more alike than we are different.