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John Cleese is accused of transphobia after joking about identifying as a ‘Cambodian police woman’


John Cleese has been accused of transphobia after joking that he would like to be a Cambodian police woman in a series of tweets defending Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

The British comedian, 81, issued numerous rebukes to fellow Twitter users on Sunday after one reposted a September 30 tweet from Cleese in support of Rowling, 55, who has been repeatedly accused of transphobia. 

The September post read: ‘Dear Twits, I have added my name to the signatories of the letter in solidarity with JK Rowling,’ before listing a number of other famous names who had signed the letter including the authors Ian McEwan and Lionel Shriver.

On Sunday, a user shared a screenshot of the message, asking Cleese ‘Why the f**k can’t you just let people be who they want to be?

British comedian John Cleese has drawn ire on Twitter for a joke he made supporting author JK Rowling, who has been frequently accused of transphobia [File photo]

In response to a Twitter user who asked Cleese why he couldn’t leave people to live their lives as they choose to, the comic responded: Deep down, I want to be a Cambodian police woman. Is that allowed or am I being unrealistic?’ The comment annoyed many fans

‘Do you actually think there is some deep conspiracy to turn people ‘against their genders’? Or do you like [Rowling] as a person and therefore there isn’t anything she can do wrong? Latter probably,’ the user wrote.

The Monty Python co-creator replied: ‘Deep down, I want to be a Cambodian police woman.

‘Is that allowed, or am I being unrealistic?’ he wrote.

Several Twitter users were upset by the comment which they felt trivialised the experiences of transgender people.

One wrote: ‘You’re simplifying a very complex topic here’.

Cleese’s comments on Sunday came in response to a Twitter user who had reposted a September 30 Tweet from the comedian stating that he had signed a letter in support of Harry Potter author JK Rowling

‘Trans people are being attacked & invalidated from every angle, & instead of being supportive & uplifting? You say this,’ another wrote.

However, while some followers decried Cleese’s comment, saying it would alienate his trans fans, others came to the famous comic’s defence. 

‘Watching the meltdown from some people in this thread… It is obviously a joke. He is a comedian. Get a grip, folks,’ one Twitter user wrote.  

After engaging with several irate Twitter users, Cleese acknowledged that his understanding of gender identity was ‘superficial’ and admitted that he was ‘not that interested in trans folks,’ as he tried to turn the conversation to issues he said he was ‘more focused on’.

He listed ‘threats to democracy in America, the rampant corruption in the UK, the appalling British Press, the revelations about police brutality…’ among his more pressing concerns. 

After engaging with several irate Twitter users, Cleese acknowledged that his understanding of gender identity was ‘superficial’ and admitted that he was ‘not that interested in trans folks,’ as he tried to turn the conversation to issues he said he was ‘more focused on’

The letter in support of JK Rowling came after the author faced huge backlash over her many controversial remarks on trans people. 

Rowling, a self-declared feminist who insists she is not transphobic, has been labelled as just that for comments that critics say discriminate against transgender women by excluding and separating their concerns from other questions of women’s rights. 

This summer the controversy around Rowling’s stance on transgender issues erupted after she drew accusations of transphobia yet again by criticising the phrase ‘people with periods’.

”People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?,’ she wrote on Twitter in response to an op-ed that had used the phrase. 

It is considered more inclusive than simply saying ‘women’, as Rowling appeared to favour, because cisgender woman are not the only individuals who menstruate.   

The author went on to explain her views in more detail, saying: ‘If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. 

‘If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased,’ she wrote, adding ‘It isn’t hate to speak the truth.’

‘The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women- i.e., to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense.’

‘I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. 

‘At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.’ 

Rowling, 55, has drawn derision for comments which critics describe as insensitive at best and ‘transphobic’ at worst. A self-described feminist, Rowling has always asserted that she is not transphobic. Pictured: Rowling attends a premiere in New York in 2019

Rowling’s comments were a disappointment to many fans, who accused the writer of misunderstanding the distinction between sex – which is biological – and gender – which is not – and trying to exclude transgender women from questions of gender equality.  

The author later caused consternation by including a man who dressed as a woman as the murderous villain in her latest addition to her Strike detective series, which she writes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  

Cleese, who played Hogwarts ghost Nearly Headless Nick in the first two Harry Potter films, has previously said he was ‘baffled’ by the backlash against Rowling.

However other members of the cast including Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have made their support of transgender people clear in the wake of Rowling’s comments.

‘Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are,’ Watson tweeted this summer.  

In a post for LGBTQ+ suicide prevention charity The Trevor Project, after Rowling’s tweets were posted Radcliffe wrote:

‘Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I,’ he wrote, referring to JK Rowling – whose first name is Joanne – by her nickname. 

‘It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and non-binary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm,’ he wrote, apologising to ‘all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished’.

‘I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you.’  

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