Politics

J.K. Rowling’s New Book Features A Cross-Dressing Serial Killer, And Trans Activists Are Done

Can't we leave the Buffalo Bill archetype in the '90s where it belongs?

J.K. Rowling's new book features a cross-dressing serial killer, and trans people are tired

J.K. Rowling’s newest novel Troubled Blood, part of her Cormoran Strike crime novel series published under a male alias, centres on a cis-gendered male serial killer who dresses as a woman. Given Rowling’s well-known hateful views towards trans women, LGBTIQ people have little hope that the novel, out today, will do anything other than replicate the worst of the ‘Buffalo Bill’ archetype, which intractably links ‘cross dresser’ with ‘mentally ill murderer’.

An early review of the novel in UK paper The Telegraph (via PinkNews) sign-posts that Troubled Blood, the fifth in Robert Galbraith’s series, focuses on protagonist PI. Cormoran Strike solving a cold case from 1974, where a woman was believed to be killed by a “transvestite serial killer”. In their review, Jake Kerridge says the book’s “moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress”.

While it’s true that the public hasn’t read the novel, it’s pretty unlikely Rowling is playing with or subverting this harmful trope, which was recently explored in Disclosure, Netflix’s documentary on trans representation in the media.

In Disclosure: Trans Lives On Screen, multiple trans women discuss the impact of Silence Of The Lambs‘ cross-dressing serial killer Buffalo Bill upon the wider understanding of trans people, saying that for many, it’s their main or only image of a trans person. In one scene, writer Jen Richards says that in the ’90s a well-meaning friend reacted to her coming out by asking if she was “like” Buffalo Bill.

With news of the plot of Troubled Blood, people have continued to disavow Rowling, who has made a sharp and vocal turn into transphobia in the past year, though retrospectively, it’s clear the thoughts had been lingering for longer, including in her works.

In 2018, writer Katelyn Burns wrote an essay for them exploring Rowling’s history of transphobia, which included a scene in the 2014 Cormoran Strike novel The Silkworm in which the protagonist relishes in taunting a trans woman who tried to murder him with the prospect of going to a man’s prison.

“It’s an entirely common though insulting trope about trans women – that they are aggressive and unable to overcome their masculine nature, not to mention villainous – that has become all too common from cisgender authors with only a passing knowledge of trans people.”

Rowling has since stepped up her transphobia, in June writing a 4,000 word screed arguing for the importance of feminism on the basis of biological sex. It’s a common argument by TERFS (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) that has gained footing within popular UK feminism.

On Twitter, many are critical of Troubled Blood and Rowling, calling it everything from a cynical way to profit off transphobia to an example of how Rowling has to write fictional versions of the trans women she fears, as they don’t exist in the real world.

“I’m honestly relieved that JK Rowling has written a 900 page book about a transvestite killer, because it’s such a hackneyed, overused, ridiculous trope that it perfectly demonstrates how out of touch with reality she is,” wrote podcaster and novelist Cate Spice. “What’s next? An evil villain who steals nuclear weapons?”

In response, #RIPJKRowling is trending on Twitter, as people say the once-beloved Harry Potter author is now dead to them.

Naturally, this has been seen as misogynistic by TERFs, who are claiming this is a perfect example of the violent trans activist movement. Twitter has helpfully pointed out that no, Rowling isn’t dead.

Maybe Rowling and her defenders could consider reading a letter from a young transgender once-fan, instead of just blindly charging ahead.