June 15, 2020
Harry Potter fans find a way forward without J.K. Rowling
by Alyea Canada
Look, we all know it has been a rough few months. I don’t need to list everything going on, we all know. So to say that J.K. Rowling’s decision to double down on past transphobic comments came out of nowhere is a spectacular understatement. Literally no one was paying attention to her—we were in the midst of a pandemic, a civil rights movement, and the peak of authors revealing their advances on Twitter—and yet here we are.
This isn’t the first time Rowling has waded into controversy, but a lot of this came from her insistence on retconning the series which is within her rights (ask George Lucas) even if some of her revelations have been … troubling (werewolves being the wizarding equivalent to people with HIV/AIDS comes to mind). However, whispers of Rowling’s transphobia started two years ago when she liked a transphobic tweet and were re-upped in December 2019 when she vocally supported a British researcher who claimed she was fired because of her belief that biological sex is fixed. (It is worth pointing out here that biological sex and gender are two different things, and that trans and gender nonconforming people, as well as biologists, are not claiming that biological sex isn’t real just that it doesn’t determine your gender.) However, this most recent controversy makes Rowling’s beliefs very clear and very intentional, and, as Julia Jacobs reports at the New York Times, is forcing fans of Harry Potter to reevaluate their relationship to the series.
I’m not going to recount the controversy here, it’s covered in Jacobs’s article and is very Googleable, the bigger concern is that one of the oldest fandoms now finds itself in the midst of a debate about separating the art from the artist. There was also a brief moment of attributing authorship to Britney Spears. Many of Harry Potter’s most fervent fans have credited the series with helping them through dark times or abuse, and have fond memories of reading the books. Many have Harry Potter tattoos, reread the series annually, listen to podcasts, attend cons, and gift the books to younger relatives. Rori Porter, a trans fan who spoke to Jacobs said that while she needs a break from the series she doesn’t “want to give J.K. Rowling the satisfaction of taking away from me something that I loved as a kid.” Other fans have pointed out that the fandom itself exists independently from Rowling and so they see no issue in their continued participation.
Many fans of the series have discussed the more problematic aspects of the series for years, and for them the only change is that they will no longer support official Harry Potter offerings such as the new Fantastic Beasts films, the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” and official merch. J’Neia Stewart, who’s “The House of Black Podcast” examines Harry Potter through a social justice lens, told Jacobs: “[w]e can say we’re going to cancel her, but she’s going to get money for the rest of her life.” The reality is that whatever backlash Rowling experiences from this fallout isn’t really going to harm her, there are plenty of people defending her statements, and Harry Potter isn’t going to stop making money anytime soon.
The decision about how to move forward with the series is a personal one. However, in a world where trans children are more than 75 percent more likely to feel unsafe at school, trans and nonbinary people are being denied access to bathrooms, and trans women of color are being murdered at a wildly disproportionate rate, it is irresponsible to say that Rowling’s comments aren’t harmful. So, while I will always have fond memories of growing up with the Harry Potter series, I’m also perfectly happy letting it go.
Alyea Canada is an editor at Melville House.