From left to right the photo is an early 1900s snap of Bernhard Schapiro, Magnus Hirschfeld and Tao Lee. ie the men at the center of why people are accusing JK Rowling of Holocaust denial
From left to right the photo is an early 1900s snap of Bernhard Schapiro, Magnus Hirschfeld and Tao Lee. ie the men at the center of why people are accusing JK Rowling of Holocaust denial

People are accusing JK Rowling of Holocaust denial after the writer once again found herself at the centre of controversy due to transphobia. In this piece we will attempt two things; 1) to explain the situation and 2) to not get sued. Lets go!

First lets give a quick timeline of events. The tweets that led to people accusing JK Rowling of Holocaust denial start with her response to NHS England’s decision to halt new puberty blocker prescriptions again. She quotes professor Carl Heneghan before launching into a tirade in response to a commenter. Her tweet reads: 

“Well-funded lobbying groups drunk on their own power, politicians closing their eyes rather than suffer social media pushback, idiot celeb cheerleaders who’re about to go very quiet, pharmaceutical companies chasing profit, medics who abandoned ethics and should be in the dock.”

Rowling’s tweeting continued through March 13th and began to include screenshots of anonymised comments. At 1:57pm JK Rowling then posted the image and response which started all of this. It reads; “The Nazis burnt books on trans healthcare and research, why are you so desperate to uphold their ideology around gender?” JK Rowling is tagged into the thread this tweet is posted as part of – however the conversation was in no way about Rowling and she was not engaged directly by the user.

JK Rowling’s comment in response to this reads; “I just… how? How did you type this out and press send without thinking ‘I should maybe check my source for this, because it might’ve been a fever dream’?”

Many in the comments, including journalist Alejandra Caraballo and actor George Takei were quick to tell JK Rowling she was wrong and provide evidence. In response to Caraballo, JK Rowling moves the goalposts from what is stated in the original tweet i.e. “the nazis burnt books on trans healthcare and research” to a different thing entirely i.e.

“Neither of your articles support the contention that trans people were the first victims of the Nazis or that all research on trans healthcare in 1930s Germany. You are engaging in lying, Alejandra.” [my emphasis added]

But neither the original tweet nor subsequent tweets from Alejandra Caraballo assert that transgender people were the first victims of the Nazis. Nor did they state that all research on trans healthcare had been burnt. JK Rowling had entirely moved the goalposts.

A quote reply to JK Rowling’s ‘fever dream’ comment – which JK Rowling later cites at Caraballo – does assert that the Nazi’s first targets were trans people. But this is a quote reply from an entirely different person, with no apparent connection to the original poster, Caraballo or anyone else. It came after Rowling was initially objectively wrong in her ‘fever dream’ post, as it is a reply to that tweet.

It’s also easily explainable as a mix-up of rhetoric. Trans people were indeed amongst the first targeted by the Nazis because Institut für Sexualwissenschaft was one of the Nazis first major targets. This institute pioneered gender reassignment and is even responsible for coining the word “transsexual”. These are widely accepted historical facts. This isn’t the same sentence as “trans people were the Nazi’s first targets” – but its easy to see how the ‘telephone game’ would get you from one to the other. The user later clarified they meant “among the first”.

Rowling also responded to someone asking her to “google Magnus Hirschfield”, head of the aforementioned institute, to which Rowling responds “I know all about Hirschfield. Are you sure you want to make him a poster boy for trans medicine? The man who believed in sterilisation of the unfit?”

Again this is a huge goal post shift. The commenter is asking JK Rowling to read up on a historical fact, not personally endorsing Magnus Hirschfeld and all of the beliefs he ever had across his entire life time. Other people like the beautiful Caelan Conrad have gone into detail about that here if you want – but we don’t need to because it is wholly irrelevant.

Later, JK Rowling boosts a thread written by a man who may or may not work for LGB Alliance; Malcolm Clark. The thread is from 2023 and is titled “Trans Healthcare and The Nazis”. The thread serves largely as a hit-piece on Magnus Hirschfeld who, again, no one was saying was a great person.

The thread does not disprove the assertion which kicked this entire controversy off; “The Nazis burnt books on trans healthcare and research”. Caraballo tries again, linking Rowling to resources from Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Holocaust Encyclopedia, and Smithsonian Magazine.

To which JK Rowling once again engages in a goalpost shift. She asks Caraballo to show her evidence that “trans-identifying people were persecuted, as distinct from gay people, who were indeed victims of heinous treatment by the Nazis”.

No longer is it enough that it is a widely accepted historical fact that Nazis burnt down the library of the institute that pioneered gender reassignment and literally coined the word “transsexual”. No. Now we need to know whether the Nazis viewed trans people as distinct from gay people or not. Again, an assertion no one ever made because its wholly unimportant.

In fact, trans inclusive people generally make the opposite assertion. The original tweet which kicked this off even does so when it asks “why are you so desperate to uphold [the Nazi’s] ideology around gender?” The argument being that beliefs such as the view that lesbian trans women are really straight men are shared between anti-trans groups like LGB Alliance and The Nazis.

I, for one, think we should probably skip the part where we consider what a group of people famous for defining other people as “subhuman” and slaughtering them by the millions might or might not have thought about trans people’s legitimacy before deciding whether the crimes against those people count or not.

Later social media activity from Rowling includes retweeting an alleged comedian who writes, “Trans activists have this strange pathology of having to insert themselves everywhere much like the Soviets seemingly invented everything. Apparently, TRAs now insist that my uncles and aunts were overwhelmed with trans folk while they waited to be gassed.”

She then posts her own version of this sentiment by writing; There is no tragedy where they didn’t suffer more than anyone else, no issue in which they don’t centre themselves. Language, history, other people’s oppression: all must be reconfigured around them.”

The erasure of transgender people from history is, ironically, well-documented and talked about. Part of it is passive ignorance; a cisgender historian reading about someone like James Barry might not know about trans people. So they would be more likely to present his story as a cisgender woman dressing in disguise to thwart patriarchal rules because its a narrative they’re more familiar with – we’ve all seen Mulan but only trans people have seen Mulan.

Part of it is purposeful. Transphobes have actively mobbed organisations who have dared present an interpretation of James Barry as an example of a British transgender man. Some orgs have taken these interpretations down, effectively burying them. Both form part of a wider pattern of LGBTQIA+ erasure that is so ubiquitous it even has its own meme; “and they were roommates”.

It’s an effective tactic, one which the UK is no stranger to having previously had ‘Section 28‘ on the books. Between 1988 and 2003 it banned “promoting” queerness meaning that LGBTQIA+ lives could not be talked about in any positive sense by teachers or other public authorities. The effects of this on the generations who grew up under it are devastating as covered in this anthology by Kestral Gaian.

At time of writing, these events end with JK Rowling seeming to threaten Rivkah Brown, Novara Media, with a “meeting in court” for referring to Rowling as a “holocaust denier” in a now deleted tweet. Many others have accused JK Rowling of Holocaust denial, including Alejandra Caraballo.

I do not have the expertise or knowledge to join in the chorus of people who are accusing JK Rowling of Holocaust denial. I’ve done part 1) of my goals with this piece and explained why people are making the accusation; she was objectively wrong about a historical fact in which the Nazis burnt research into trans healthcare. But any analysis as to whether this constitutes Holocaust denialism is, in my view, best left to the experts in that field.

My expertise is in transphobia and the way it operates. I think JK Rowling’s social media activity over the last two days is an interesting case study into how bigotry constantly and confidently bullshits itself into believing it has successfully reasserted the narrative. When, in reality, any real inspection causes it to quickly fall apart.

Throughout these tweets Rowling seemingly can’t give a direct response to anything put to her. The tweet that kicked off people making these accusations is unmistakeably her disagreeing with established historical fact about the burning of Institut für Sexualwissenschaft’s research. When presented with citations by Caraballo and others demonstrating the established historical facts regarding the burning of Hirschfeld’s Institute JK Rowling’s responses get increasingly further from the point.

She moves the goalposts as facts are repeated to her, adding more conditions and hoops trans people need to prove and jump through for her to accept she was wrong in that first tweet. When this fails, she changes tactic to discrediting Hirschfeld, as if his shitty beliefs somehow make the burning of his Institute – and research into trans healthcare it contained – null and void.

Then, you get the ending; the real anxiety the she was expressing reveals itself. In my view, this is demonstrated via the tweets where Rowling expresses the belief that trans people are inserting ourselves into history and centering things around us all the time. To my eyes, its just another form of the common anti-LGBTQIA+ trope of claiming we’re asking for too much in some regard.

None of this was about historical facts. It wasn’t about the Nazis. It wasn’t about the Holocaust or any of its victims. It wasn’t about the research Magnus Hirschfeld led. It wasn’t about what a few random Twitter accounts said. It wasn’t about the lives of transgender people in early 1900s Germany.

It was, in my opinion, just a bigot being upset that trans people aren’t quiet about our erasure from history. All just one big billionaire whine that we are asking for too much by insisting that our histories aren’t erased.

Transphobes get upset about trans people pointing out our place in history all the time – as I’ve mentioned with regards to James Barry above. Reasons for this vary, but, in my opinion, it’s often linked to certain narratives which are common amongst the anti-trans crowd.

One such narrative is the idea that modern trans people are an entirely distinct and separate group from previous groups of trans people. Narratives like this allow the transphobe to attempt to maintain that they are not transphobic by having an imagined group of trans people they support to contrast with the modern group of trans people they oppose.

JK Rowling herself has engaged in this via her “I will march with you if you’re oppressed” tweets. An attempt to maintain the idea she is not transphobic on the inhale while using the exhale to later call prominent transgender women “men cosplaying fantasies of women” on social media.

Another tactic is to try and shift the blame for why a trans person or trans people may have been targeted away from their transness and onto something else. In my view, JK Rowling does this when she suggests that any damages to trans people, healthcare and research were incidental as the real target was gay people.

This tactic is grimly obvious when looking at the transphobic response to murdered trans people, especially murdered trans women of colour in the US. These women often have a history of sex work and drug use – two very common avenues for bigots to shift the blame to while ignoring how those intersections of race and gender disproportionately result in survival sex work. We even saw attempts to minimise the consequences of transphobia  surrounding the trial for the murderers of Brianna Ghey here in the UK with outlets quick to claim hate crime had been dismissed.

The purpose of this tactic is usually to maintain separation between anti-trans hostility and anti-trans violence. The transphobe needs to maintain that their beliefs are but mere beliefs that couldn’t hurt anyone in isolation. But they are not in isolation. They form part of a much larger picture which includes decades of anti-trans abuses, a wholesale denial and erasure of the existence of trans people and the world’s most famous author calling for doctors supporting trans youth to face charges.

This kind of rhetoric only has one outcome in my opinion. One we’ve been able to measure as we watch the statistics regarding hate crimes against trans people continue to rise at a staggering rate. Another statistic transphobes have also worked, and failed, at waving away. But they don’t really need to convince you or me, they only need to convince themselves – and that’s a low bar to get over.

Is it fair to go around accusing JK Rowling of Holocaust denial because she initially denied research from Hirschfeld’s institute was burnt by Nazis, then shifted to claiming opposition to the idea trans people were the first targeted, then shifted again to claiming actually trans people were only targeted as part of the Nazi’s attack on gay people before settling on salty-posting about trans people, talking about our place in history?

Heck if I know. You can definitely call her a pathetic whinger and laugh at her for barely being coherent through her desperate attempts to maintain her bigoted belief set. Other than that, I hope that you’ve learned a thing or two about trans history and the reasons why it must be defended. That’s really what this piece was about – learning. I just made you think I was going to potentially libel JK Rowling so that you would read it and learn things.

Get got, sucker. PS Check out this thread I wrote about early 1900s trans man and cop biter Harry Allan.