Up until recently, the Olympic diver had been a huge fan of the Harry Potter world, and even chose Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone as his favourite book on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2018.
But the gold medal-winning sports star says he has fallen out of love with the books ever since the author has repeatedly shared her beliefs about the trans community and issues relating to gender identity.
“I did love JK Rowling’s books,” he told The Times. “But it does always leave a little bit of a…” Here he seemed about to say “bad taste”, according to the newspaper.
The 26-year-old went on to acknowledge the support he received from the author after evangelical Christians on Twitter claimed he’d dived badly in the 2016 Olympics because he was gay.
“So, the thing is, she stuck up for me in the past,” he said, adding that he was grateful for it at the time.
“But then what she said about trans people… It’s one of the hardest things to understand, how trans people think and feel, because she has never lived that experience, the same way white people trying to understand the Black experience will never be able to understand that.”
Tom said he would now change his Desert Island Disc book choice and pick A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, a “spiritual manifesto” about living life without anger, jealousy, and unhappiness.
Asked what he would say to Rowling in person if they met, he said: “It’s hard because I’m not someone who likes conflict, but I have strong views and beliefs.
“I guess it would be a conversation rather than a shouting match. I always try to listen first and try to understand, and then try to share my point of view and my opinions and show how things [said] can hurt other people, to try to get the best outcome.”
“The word is the wrong word,” Graham explained. “I think the word should be ‘accountability’.
“John Cleese has been very public recently, complaining about what you can’t say. And it must be very hard to be a man of a certain age who’s been able to say whatever he likes for years, and now suddenly there’s some accountability.”
He added: “It’s free speech, but not consequence-free. I’m aware of the things I say.”
The interviewer then brought up JK Rowling, who Graham did not name in his response.
“What I feel weird about this is when I’m asked about it, I become part of this discussion,” he said. “And also I’m painfully aware of is that my voice adds nothing to that discussion. And I’m sort of embarrassed that I’m somehow drawn into it.
“If people want to shine a light on those issues, and I hope people do, then talk to trans people. Talk to the parents of trans kids. Talk to doctors, talk to psychiatrists, talk to someone who can illuminate this in some way.
Graham’s comments received a wave of support online, with many praising the way he summed up the debate around “cancel culture”, particularly with relation to sensitive issues.
However, it didn’t take long for Rowling to slam his remarks on Twitter, referring to “bearded men” having an opinion.
Retweeting a post from singer Billy Bragg in support of Graham, the Harry Potter writer tweeted to her 14 million followers on Thursday: “Very much enjoying the recent spate of bearded men stepping confidently onto their soapboxes to define what a woman is and throw their support behind rape and death threats to those who dare disagree.
“You may mock, but [it] takes real bravery to come out as an Old Testament prophet.”
Help and support:
- The Gender Trust supports anyone affected by gender identity | 01527 894 838
- Mermaids offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences for young people with gender identity issues | 0208 1234819
- LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for LGBT people in Scotland. Text 07786 202 370
- Gires provides information for trans people, their families and professionals who care for them | 01372 801554
- Depend provides support, advice and information for anyone who knows, or is related to, a transsexual person in the UK