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‘More Fuel to the Fire.’ Trans and Non-Binary Authors Respond to Controversy Over J.K. Rowling’s New Novel

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The last 48 hours have been full of conflicting emotions for Marieke Nijkamp. A New York Times bestselling author, Nijkamp’s new novel, a YA thriller titled Even If We Break, was published Tuesday. It’s Nijkamp’s third novel, and their first to include a non-binary protagonist, which makes the book “very special” to them, as Nijkamp is a non-binary, disabled person. “Mainly I want to reflect the world that I see and live in and am a part of,” Nijkamp says. “I think fiction doesn’t do that enough as it is.”

One example of fiction they feel is unlikely to do that: J.K. Rowling’s new novel, Troubled Blood, also publishing on Tuesday. It quickly faced criticism for allegedly leaning into portrayals of trans people as villains.

Nijkamp, who says they’ve mostly tried to ignore Rowling’s previous comments on trans issues, found the controversy impossible to avoid this week. The juxtaposition was a painful one. “We’re generally not perpetrators of violence, we’re victims,” Nijkamp says. “I can’t imagine going back and explaining to my teenage self, ‘Hey, this author you love so much blatantly hates people like you.”

Author Marieke Nijkamp

Courtesy of JLF

Troubled Blood is the fifth in a series featuring the private detective Cormoran Strike, which Rowling, a cisgender woman, penned under the male pseudonym Robert Galbraith. In an early review published on Sunday, British newspaper The Telegraph called Troubled Blood “a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress,” citing a plotline featuring a male serial killer dressing up in women’s clothing to commit murders.

A subsequent review from The Guardian describes this character as “just one of many suspects” in the novel’s primary narrative, however; while the killer is apparently written to fetishize lingerie, he uses a stolen women’s coat and a wig solely as a disguise to aid his crimes. The review adds that, “he is not the main villain, nor is he portrayed as trans or even called a ‘transvestite’ by Rowling.”

Still, given Rowling’s previous comments on transgender people and gender identity, the plotline is “disappointing, but not surprising,” says Mason Deaver, author of I Wish You All the Best. The novel, Deaver’s debut, follows the journey of a character coming out as non-binary, and their newly-forged friendships along the way. Writing, Deaver says, is a way to create what would have mattered to them as a child.

They are concerned about the impact of Rowling’s latest work, particularly on those who are trans fans of Harry Potter and had previously admired her work. “I think the harm it’s going to do to them is tragic,” they say.

Trans and non-binary writers believe that narratives relying on transphobic tropes have a harmful impact on their community, and reinforces both transphobic sentiments and misinformation at large. As outlined in this year’s Netflix documentary Disclosure, which analyzed transgender representation on screen, narratives of mentally ill men dressing in women’s clothing and committing violence towards women have long existed in popular media, like the films Psycho and Silence of the Lambs.

“It might not seem obvious at first, but it’s very harmful to portray that being trans adjacent is somehow connected to your mental health,” says Deaver. “I think for the people who hate us, or don’t like us, it’s going to help add more fuel to the fire.”

It’s not the first time that Rowling has been criticized for her treatment of trans issues within her fiction writing. As journalist Katelyn Burns noted in a review of The Silkworm, another of Rowling’s books published under the Galbraith moniker, a trans character’s appearance was also described using problematic stereotypes. And Rowling’s choice of pen name has also been subject to controversy—Robert Galbraith Heath was the name of a mid-20th century anti-LGBTQ conversion therapist. (Rowling has previously said that the name was a conflation of her political hero, Robert F. Kennedy, and a childhood fantasy name ‘Ella Galbraith’.)

For many authors, the focus on trans characters in Rowling’s work detracts from what they see as the authenticity—and inclusivity—their writing can provide. Fiction should reflect the world we live in and speak to the full experience of life that doesn’t solely focus on identity or on traumatic experience, says Lizzie Huxley-Jones, a non-binary autistic author of children’s fiction living in London. “I want to put stories out there that feature trans and disabled kids, that aren’t specifically about them experiencing transphobia or ableism, or their family learning to love them and come to terms with who they are. I want to make a space for people to see a facet of themselves that’s also safe and comforting, an escape. We need that right now.”

Read more: I’m a Nonbinary Writer of Youth Literature. J.K. Rowling’s Comments on Gender Identity Reinforced My Commitment to Better Representation

That sense of escapism is something Rin Chupeco, a non-binary YA author based in Manila, also weaves into their sci-fi and fantasy novels. “I’ve always felt, in many ways, trapped within my own body, and being able to write about fantastical worlds with magic, dragons and demons always feels freeing” they say.

And the attention focused on uplifting their work amid controversies has felt conflicting at times. “We want to be remembered for our books, and not because a rich white author chose to attack us,” says Chupeco. “It gets really tiring to only be remembered if someone else does something to make it terrible for us. This is not to say I don’t appreciate the support, but at the same time, it’s exhausting to be constantly put through this specific loop, where we’re only remembered when someone does something to us, and then forgotten by the time it blows over.”

For Nijkamp, who is spending Tuesday celebrating publication day, the feelings are similarly complicated. “It’s great to see that people are taking this as a jumping off point, but I don’t necessarily want a transphobic person to say and do stuff for my work to be noticed.” Over the last day, Nijkamp has had several readers reach out and express excitement about feeling represented in their work, but hopes that the energy is more long-lasting, and that cis authors too take responsibility for making their work more inclusive.

“I don’t think that I would have gotten to the realization that I am non binary without fiction, and without fiction for young people in particular,” Nijkamp explains. “Ideally figuring out what it means to be me, or what it means to be you shouldn’t be this much of a struggle. What I’m hoping for in response to this entire situation is that in raising awareness of the work of trans and non-binary authors, readers will be able to not just find hatred in books, but also find welcoming.”

Contact us at letters@time.com.

Entertainment

Natasha Lyonne, Alia Shawkat To Develop Amazon Series On Iraqi Immigrants

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Actors Alia Shawkat and Natasha Lyonne are developing a series titled The Desert People for Amazon.

The series will follow an Iraqi immigrant family running a gentleman’s club in Palm Springs, California.

Shawkat will star in, write and executive produce the series along with Lyonne, reported Variety.

The 31-year-old actor will play the family’s elder daughter who is trying to come to terms with her sexuality and identity as a first generation American.

Maya Rudolph, Danielle Renfrew Behrens, and Dianne McGunigle are also serving as executive producers on the half-hour series.

Lyonne’s Animal Pictures is currently under a first-look deal at Amazon. The banner is also developing the animated comedy The Hospital for the studio.

Image credit: AP

 

 

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Tom Hanks and His Adidas Tracksuit Are Ready to Make Movies Again

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Remember how Tom Hanks, one of the world’s most-famous men, was also one of the most-famous people to have contracted COVID-19 early into the pandemic? The beloved actor did so while on Baz Luhrmann’s set in Queensland, Australia, where they were filming a new Elvis Presley biopic (Hanks plays Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker). And so, back in March, he and wife Rita Wilson went through it, recovered, and went home. Well now, months later, they’re back in Australia, putting their antibodies to good use on the up-and-running film set. (That is, in addition to the big bag of plasma he already donated.)

On Tuesday, he had a post-quarantine coming-out party at a mall, like a debutante for these strange times. A paparazzo got a clip, which is published on the Daily Mail, of him going in a store. In it, his handler says “…get a thing of him shopping,” and to which Hanks adds, “You’re the first, man! You’re the first.” The iPhone video functions like an establishing shot of a film back in production after the customary 14 days of lying low. For the occasion, Hanks wore an Adidas tracksuit with a backpack and no mask. It’s a very sporty look. It really suits him.

When Hanks touched down a couple weeks ago, he became an unlikely tabloid subject, unusual for a man named “the nicest” 40 years in a row by newlyweds doing engagement photos in Central Park. The Mail said Hanks and Wilson is thought to have quarantined at their own chi-chi resort rather than in one of the hotels approved for those arriving in the country (some have complained about the food and air quality in the hotels, according to local reports). But it’s all part of a plan to get filming back up and running so those jobs can continue, Premier of Queensland Annastacia Palaszczuk told parliament when it asked her about special treatment. She confirmed Hanks is in compliance, saying, “Under that plan they have to stay in the place for two weeks just like everybody else, and they will have random checks, as my understanding, by the police.” 

What would really smooth things over is if Baz Luhrmann reprised his narrative role in the sequel to “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen),” called “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Mask)” on behalf of the production, but well, he’s understandably busy bringing Elvis back to life. 

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Screen Australia unveils funding for 12 documentaries

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Screen Australia has announced AUS$1.3 million of production funding for 11 documentaries funded through its Producer program and one through its Commissioned program.

The project receiving Commissioned program funding is season two of Love on the Spectrum, from Northern Pictures and the creative team of director/producer Cian O’Clery, producer Jenni Wilks and executive producer Karina Holden for Australia’s ABC. The series also streamed its first season on Netflix.

The 11 projects receiving funding from the Producer program include: Logan Documentary (w/t) from writer/director Sari Braithwaite, with producer Chloe Brugale and executive producers Robert Connolly and Robert Patterson of Arenamedia; feature doc Meet the Wallers from director/producer Jim Stevens, writer/producer Gil Scrine of Petrie Street Pictures, and executive producer Trish Lake; feature doc MuM – Misunderstandings of Miscarriage from Neon Jane for Stan and the creative team of writer/director Tahyna MacManus, producer Kelly Tomasich and executive producers Jennifer Cummins and Michael Lawrence; Phil Liggett: The Voice of Cycling, a feature doc from writer/director Eleanor Sharpe and producer Nickolas Bird; Revenge: My Dad, the Nazi Killer, a doc from writer, director and producer Danny Ben-Moshe and producer Lizzette Atkins; six-part AR series Rewild from director/producer Rayyan Roslan, director/writer Trent Clews-de Castella, director Joseph Purdam, writer/producer Angie Davis, writer Gemma Hannan and producer Blair Burke; and Stage Changers from director/producer Ella Wright, and producers Aidan O’Bryan and Janelle Landers of WBMC.

Remaining films receiving funding in the Producers program are: three-part online docuseries Strong Women (pictured), written, directed and produced by Corinne Innes and Alexandra Gaulupeau, and produced by Ann Megalla; The Department, directed by Sascha Ettinger Epstein and produced by Mary Macrae and Ian Darling (Shark Island Productions); five-part short doc series There Is No ‘I’ in Island from writer, director and producer Rebecca Thomson and producer Catherine Pettman; and feature doc Under Cover from writer, director and producer Sue Thomson and producer Adam Farrington-Williams, and producer Alexandra Curtis.

The Producer program is intended to provide producers with foundational funding required to leverage projects creatively and commercially. Marketplace attachment is not needed at the application stage.

Meanwhile, the Commissioned program is intended to support a diverse range of quality projects for television broadcast, airing on streaming platforms or similar outlets. A local presale with a minimum license fee is required at the application stage.

Bernadine Lim, head of documentary for Screen Australia, said in a statement: “The projects in this slate not only shine a light on social issues but also offer a number of personal experiences and family stories that I’m confident will inspire important conversations.”

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