Upon finding myself having a great deal of new-found free time this spring, I decided to reread the seven Harry Potter books for the first time since elementary school. Right around the time that I was finishing the fifth book, I noticed that JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, was trending on Twitter. Curious, I read into the viral controversy and was incredibly disappointed to see what I considered to be blatantly transphobic statements coming from the author of a series that in many ways was a formative part of my childhood. The internet was immediately ablaze, demanding that Rowling, and by proxy, the entire Harry Potter franchise, be “canceled.” While I agree that Rowling’s words were reprehensible, I do not think that we necessarily need to “cancel” her or her work, which was pivotal to so many of our childhoods. JK Rowling’s recent transphobic statements are disappointing, to say the least, and incredibly harmful. We must hold her accountable and demand better for the trans community, but we can still appreciate the impact that her works had on our lives while holding her accountable.
Why Rowling Is Under Fire
Rowling is no stranger to Twitter controversy. In the past, she has come under fire for liking transphobic tweets, which has been passed off by her representatives as an accident and a “middle-aged moment.”
In early June of 2020, Rowling expressed frustration over a headline referring to “people who menstruate,” to which Rowling took frustration that the article was not just saying “women.” In reality, many people who are not “women” menstruate, and not all women do menstruate. However, rather than releasing an apology or deleting the controversial tweet, Rowling doubled down on her views, penning a 3500-word essay on her struggles with sexism, and while she claims to support trans people, she also made it clear that she does not see trans women as women.
Why Rowling’s Statements Are Problematic
As I have already addressed, it is clear to see that equating women with menstruation is oftentimes inaccurate and invalidating to trans individuals. This view is shared by many large medical organizations such as the American Medical Association. It is no secret that Rowling has a huge platform, and many fans hang on to her every last word, meaning that a harmful tweet such as the transphobic ones she has been making recently can have massive impact on impressionable fans. Of course, Rowling’s opinions are not unique. She has been labeled a “TERF,” short for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.” As the name implies, TERFs are typically feminists who exclude trans individuals from their versions of feminism. While she is not the first TERF, she is arguably the most famous.
Press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, Sarah McBride, describes TERF views as “[denying] the validity of transgender people and transgender identities.” Denying the validity of transgender identities can cause incredible mental and emotional harm to transgender people and can even make discrimination against trans people seem more acceptable.
How Have People Reacted?
In short, the internet had decided that Rowling is canceled. Harry Potter fan sites have distanced themselves from Rowling, removing her photos and tagging all posts relating to her so that they can be filtered out. Some fans have even taken to throwing their copies of the books and any merchandise away. These are all understandable responses. Additionally, many cast members of the Harry Potter films have spoken out. Notably, Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry in the films, authored an essay through the Trevor Project, a large organization for LGBT youth, in which he condemns Rowling’s statements and asserts that transgender individuals are valid.
Can We Condemn Rowling and Love Potter?
For fans who support the LGBT community, it is only natural to be incredibly disappointed and hurt by JK Rowling’s statements. If you feel so moved as to throw away your Harry Potter books and boycott Rowling’s work, that is completely understandable. It is also important to hold Rowling accountable for her statements. This can come in the form of boycotting Harry Potter products and merchandise (personally, I am limiting my reread to books I already own as not to further financially support Rowling). This can also come in the form of social media activism. After all, the harm of her statements largely comes from the mere size of her platform. However, the sheer number of people who do not agree with her statements, while their platform is likely not individually as large as Rowling’s, combined, have an incredibly large platform.
For so many of us, Rowling’s books were an important part of our childhood. Recently, so much of the internet discourse has been about boycotting Harry Potter and the like, and while it is important to hold Rowling accountable for her actions, we do not need to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” so-to-speak, and we can still love her works without loving her; we just need to understand the complexities. We can still love Harry Potter for what it is, and also recognize the major problems with its author. What is important is that we all, no matter how we feel about Potter or Rowling, educate ourselves on issues regarding the transgender community and remember to call out transphobia when we see it.
Truly, I cannot say it better than Daniel Radcliffe himself; “If you found anything in these stories 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. And in my opinion, nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.”