This has been such a weird year, that nothing should surprise us anymore. Our heroes are dying, protests are inflamed all over the nation over police brutality, millions are infected with a serious and highly infectious disease, the election race is full of lies and pandering and corruption, and most of us have spent three quarters of this year practicing social distancing and staying home. Every day, my newsletters arrive in my inbox and I brace myself for another barrage of the strange, the scary, and the infuriating in the news of the day.
Focusing it in on the book world, I think it’s time to stop avoiding the elephant in the room and get this over with: I think we should talk about J.K. Rowling.
Like many millennials, I grew up with Harry Potter. I have strong and vivid memories of reading those enormous final installments feverishly in bed as a ten year old. The Deathly Hallows was the first book I ever ordered myself online and waited impatiently to arrive. I remember crying through the end of The Order of the Phoenix, and I have snap shot memory of the moment I read the sentence that said Sirius was lost. I saw all the movies in theaters, and still watch them religiously over the autumn season. I love visits to the Harry Potter attraction in Orlando and have very fond memories of those adventures with my loved ones. I started this blog reading Harry Potter in 2017 when my life was strange and scary and I needed the comfort of familiarity and nostalgia. I loved those books when I first read them, and my love for them endures to this day.
But I will no longer be buying Harry Potter merchandise, books, or tickets to the attraction. I will no longer financially or publicly support that franchise because the creator (and receiver of all funds) is a raging transphobe. J. K. Rowling’s recent statements about the validity of transpeople are not only wrong, backwards, and disgusting, but are dangerous and harmful to the trans community. I will not support someone who aggressively and violently puts transpeople’s lives and identities at risk, even if she wrote some of the most formative books of my reading life. At the end of the day, transpeople matter more to me than books do.
There are a million things wrong with Rowling’s statements. Like many outspoken Twitter users (looking at you, Mr. President), Rowling uses her immense following to share her opinions, as is anyone’s right on social media, and we can say a lot about how irresponsible and hateful social media can make us with sharing our viewpoints. However, on the topic of transpeople, there simply isn’t an opinion. Transpeople are people. You don’t get to have an opinion on someone’s identity, and you don’t have the right to deny them rights or self-expression because you don’t like it. Period.
Despite attempts from loyal fans, the stars of the films, and activists to call her in, J. K. Rowling refuses to see the harm in her statements. She has adamantly refused conversation about the danger of these statements and uses harmful deflections to maintain her opinions (just because a friend of yours who is a lesbian also holds transphobic views doesn’t make those views correct! Anyone can be transphobic — your sexual identity doesn’t protect you from having the wrong ideas about things). She’s even walking back past praises for other authors who don’t support her views. After praising Stephen King for supporting one of her feminist tweets, Rowling blocked King on Twitter for stating that transwomen are women, further showing that her fight for feminism is only half-baked. (When Stephen King is calling you out for being anti-feminist, you know you’ve got issues.)
Rowling has an immense platform; beyond her 14 million followers on Twitter, she also has a hoard of fans who have been listening to her, following her, and engaging with her for over twenty years. Her following is also impressionable, from young readers who are discovering her work for the first time to adults who grew up with her and idolize her to the point of taking her word as fact. For her to continue to use her Twitter platform to espouse hate, trans erasure, and exclusionary feminist is unconscionable and irresponsible.
And at the end of the day, Rowling is practicing a warped form of feminism. We saw similar sentiments from feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a few years ago. It’s not uncommon for under-educated feminists to think that transwomen threaten their identity as women. Often, they use the argument that since transwomen experienced the world “as men” for a certain amount of time, they have benefitted from male privilege and thus cannot truly understand the struggle of womanhood.
This is a stupid argument but it is one that went around and one that even I had to grapple with in the early years of my feminism. But that’s all it is — a small obstacle for you to reckon with on your feminist journey, and if you aren’t over it yet, if you haven’t accepted transwomen as women and if your feminism doesn’t include transpeople, then you aren’t a feminist. You’re transphobic. Read things by transpeople. Listen to their stories and their experiences. I think that if you really care about women and feminism, then you will be able to easily include transpeople in your feminism. Work at it until you can. Continue to listen and learn and reflect until your feminism is truly inclusive.
This is where J. K. Rowling is continuing to fail us. She hasn’t done any learning and growing in all the years that people have been trying to call her in to do better. She just keeps spewing lies and hate on the internet and we keep letting her think that’s okay by continuing to support her and Harry Potter. She returned a human rights award because the organization called her out on her nonsense — she decided that her opinion was worth more to her than an award honoring Robert F. Kennedy and basically admitted that what she’s saying and doing aren’t in accordance with human rights. She still has 14 million followers on Twitter. She will continue to act the way she does until she sees that she is no longer a voice of power, that people are actually holding her accountable.
We can’t be half way with this. We can’t say, “Oh, I don’t support her but I love Harry Potter so much so I’m going to keep buying the scarves and seeing the new movies and buying the books.” We have to decide that trans lives, the lives of actual living and breathing human beings on this earth, matter more to us than fictional worlds and fictional people.
I hear you, Harry Potter helped me through so much, formed me as a reader and informed me as a writer, provided emotional support and escapism when I needed it most, made me feel like a child again alive with wonder and magic when I visited the park for the first time. It matters to me, believe me.
But it also taught me what it means to be courageous and brave, to do what’s right even when it is hard, to never give up even when the world is against me, or worse indifferent to me. It taught me to always strive to be better and do better, to give others my all, even without validation. Ask yourself what the characters you love would say or do if they witnessed this — if Harry would stand idly by while Draco or Umbridge or Snape bullied someone for being who they were, if Hermione would allow someone to be treated with disrespect and abuse because of their identity, if Ron would see either of his friends fighting for someone else and say “well, that’s not really my problem.” Use the empathy, the kindness, and the respect for others that these books taught you and stand up against the injustice and hate that Rowling is spreading. Remember this, you’re here for Harry, not for Rowling. And Harry would let hell freeze over before he allowed tyranny and hate be the order of the day.