Harry Potter & the anti-trans author

Navigating what it means to be a Harry Potter fan in the face of J.K. Rowling's transphobic comments

J.K. Rowling.

When authors reveal themselves to be problematic people, it’s difficult for fans of their works to know how they should proceed.

For fans of Harry Potter, an essay recently posted by author J.K. Rowling to her website displaying trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) views has tainted their perception of both the author and the beloved book series.

This is far from the first time Rowling has come under fire for spreading transphobic rhetoric. In 2018, she ‘accidentally’ liked an anti-trans essay on Twitter; later that year, it was discovered that she was following an outspoken transphobe’s Twitter account; at the end of last year, she tweeted her support for a woman who was fired over her anti-trans comments.

Rowling has displayed a pattern of anti-trans behaviour on social media in the past. And while she’s tried to sweep some of these moments under the rug as accidental gaffes or middle-aged blunders, there’s no excuse for her inability to learn and grow from her mistakes.

As a prominent author and supposed feminist, Rowling’s words and actions are particularly damaging to the trans community. Her concerns about trans activism position the inclusion of trans women in feminism as a threat to cisgender women, perpetuating the harmful and false narrative that the existence of trans women presents danger for their cis counterparts.

Trans-inclusive feminism doesn’t detract from the issues facing cis women—it includes tackling the disproportionate issues facing trans women in the feminist fight for equality. In neglecting to confront her transphobic views time and time again, Rowling has solidified herself as a textbook example of a TERF, whether she likes it or not.

The overarching themes of the Harry Potter books are bound to attract a fanbase concerned with activism and social justice. The series’ villains perpetuate discrimination and bigotry, while its heroes advocate for a Wizarding World that doesn’t look down on others based on their biology.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the same fans who were drawn to Harry Potter for its messaging are rejecting Rowling over her assertion that trans women are distinctly separate from cis women over their biological differences.

While Rowling attempts to paint herself as the victim of a harsh and unforgiving internet cancel culture in her essay, she fails to acknowledge the validity of much of the criticism she’s facing. Social media can be a blunt and cruel breeding ground for criticism, but trolls and misogynists are far from the only ones speaking out against Rowling’s anti-trans rhetoric.

Many of the stars from the Harry Potter film franchise have made public statements denouncing Rowling’s transphobic views and advocating for support of the trans community.

Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry in the eight-movie series, released a statement reaffirming his support for trans women and addressing fans of the series who were impacted by Rowling’s transphobia. In his statement, he said: “If you found anything in [the Harry Potter novels] that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life—then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred.”

Many fans were understandably hurt by Rowling’s transphobic comments. For some, rejecting both the author and her works is the appropriate step forward; others have opted to separate their love of the Harry Potter books from its author.

It’s important to recognize that the Harry Potter series is riddled with its own flaws. Readers have pointed out that the Gringotts Bank goblins play on harmful Jewish stereotypes; the portrayal of the series’ only Asian minor character has been criticized as being two-dimensional and reductive.

Those who remain dedicated fans of the series can make a distinction between their appreciation of the books and disapproval of Rowling, but shouldn’t separate the series from its problematicity. The conversation around Harry Potter must be one that addresses and challenges transphobia, as well as the issues directly rooted within the series.

While next steps for Rowling are pretty clear—she should get off of Twitter and educate herself on trans-inclusive feminism—the path for fans of Harry Potter is a bit more ambiguous.

The Harry Potter books were never perfect, but they’ve meant a lot to its readers nonetheless. Condemning Rowling’s transphobia doesn’t have to mean cancelling her books along with her, but it does mean confronting her problematic views should now be a part of the discourse surrounding the novels.

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