As JK Rowling comes under fire for transphobic tweets, a disappointed fan finds she can no longer separate the art from the artist
The messaging throughout the Harry Potter series now stands in stark contrast to JK Rowling’s opinions on trans issues and other subjects.
I celebrated my most recent birthday in quarantine by reading a Harry Potter book. A story about finding silver linings in dark clouds seemed somewhat topical during a pandemic. I had spent my childhood and teenage years reading the series, watching its movie adaptations, and dreaming about going to Hogwarts, the school of wizardry, where the books were situated.
I have enthusiastically revisited the series multiple times over the years, and learnt something new from each reading. When I read them at seven, I learnt to be kind to others, to be a loyal friend, and to be brave in trying times. At 12, the books taught me about self-love, acceptance, and tolerance of others. At 14, I found parallels to my world: issues of race, privilege and power plagued the Potter-verse, and the lead characters were young, idealistic feminists fighting against fascist forces. The characters grappled with mental health challenges and associative stigma, a subject rarely addressed in children's or young-adult novels. Not only the characters, but JK Rowling herself became someone to aspire to.
However, at 20, I can no longer say so. My affinity for the series has been called into question following recent events.
Rowling was trending on Twitter on Saturday, for making a series of anti-trans tweets. She shared an article titled 'Opinion: Creating a More Equal Post-COVID-19 World for People Who Menstruate'. Rowling tweeted: “People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
The tweet was met with immediate backlash; critics argued that trans-men, non-binary people, and gender non-conforming people menstruate as well, and conversely, many cisgender women do not. However, Rowling continued to defend her stance, stating: “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
In a series of tweets and responses, the author argued that she supported trans people, but stood by her initial position. This is not her first offense. In December 2019, she tweeted: “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill."
Although the first three lines of her tweet seem inclusionary, the last sentence and hashtags take an anti-trans position. The tweet referenced a UK court case on the matter. In 2018, The Centre for Global Development (CDG) signed a consulting contract with Maya Forstater, an outspoken TERF – trans-exclusionary radical feminist, a term used to refer to individuals who argue that transgender women are men, and therefore, should not receive the same legal protections as women. In September 2018, Forstater made a variety of anti-trans or transphobic tweets. In March 2019, the CDG decided against renewing Forstater’s contract. She responded by suing the company, citing workplace discrimination. On 18 December, 2019, the court dismissed Forstater’s claim.
Rowling’s tweet using #IStandwithMaya had made her anti-trans position clear to Harry Potter fans around the world. Such tweets are merely an addition to a long list of questionable decisions, from her handling of casting decisions for the Fantastic Beasts series, to the appropriation of indigenous cultures in her writing. In 2016, Rowling’s Pottermore series, The History of Magic in North America, was criticised for using stereotypes, ignoring distinctions among different cultures and their practices, and appropriating them as mystical beings, markedly different from white characters in the books. In 2017, Rowling came under fire for defending the casting of Johnny Depp in the Fantastic Beasts films, following allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault against the actor. In 2018, she was criticised for fetishising Asian cultures, when South Korean actress Claudia Kim was cast as Nagini – a murderous snake, not described as human in the books – and characterised as a caged circus performer in Fantastic Beasts.
Rowling has disillusioned people like me, who grew up not only reading the books, but also waiting in long lines before each release, buying first editions and reprints, contributing to an enormous body of fan fiction, and spending countless hours on her Pottermore website. This fanbase has driven the creation of two film franchises, a stage-play, a theme park, and a bottomless barrel of merchandise, to name just a few things. After devoting years of their life to the Potter-verse, many disappointed fans – myself included – tried to separate the art from the artist, following the Forstater ruling. After her tweets on Saturday, however, I find that impossible to do.
The messaging throughout the Harry Potter series now stands in stark contrast to Rowling’s opinions. The characters from the series had a deep impact on me, but the writer's tweets contradict everything the books taught. For the original fans of Harry Potter, Rowling’s legacy is no longer just the series, but also her problematic opinions and actions in recent years.
The author is a third year student at Huron University College, University of Western Ontario
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