In this deeply personal and painful undertaking, this writer essays his thoughts on J.K. Rowling, her transphobic remarks, and what happens of his love for Harry Potter.
Somewhere scattered in the back of my mind, there exists fragments of what this could have been: a pure and earnest expression of my profound admiration and unending appreciation for J.K. Rowling, the woman responsible for bridging the fantastic world of magic folk with the mundane everyday of muggles, or you know, people of non-magical descent, fully fleshing out the life, times, and adventures of the bespectacled boy who lived, Harry Potter. But just as she didn’t intend for things to go the way it now famously did after scraping through the bottom of the barrel of a good chunk of her adult life, before scribbling down the outline of what would be an unprecedented literary phenomenon that would encourage a generation to foster a love affair with the written work, things didn’t exactly unravel the way either of us had perhaps hoped it would.
The exalting work in progress began the very moment I held the paperback copy of the J.K. Rowling-penned and Mary GrandPré-illustrated tome, where my fingers traced the embossed letters that spelled: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Cracking open the spine of the tome, gingerly tracing my gaze to the first lines that read, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much,” I knew then and there that I had to see this exposition through, if only to find out what or who their basis for peculiar was. There I met Harry Potter, the scrawny boy with a jet-black mop of hair that grazed a curious thunderbolt–shaped scar on his forehead, emerging from the under the crammed cupboard where he slept. It didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary yet, but this would be the beginning of quite the magical adventure, one that would include six more years of getting rudely acquainted with the his other life as a wizardry, navigating the hallowed halls of Hogwarts and the great unknown beyond the safety of Hagrid’s Hut, and living up to his full potential as a reluctant hero that would take down the malevolent oppression, vicious terror, and psychotic torture of He-who-must-not-be-named.
Beyond the yellowed pages of the books that defined my adolescent years, Harry Potter nurtured my kinship for the written word, somehow convincing me in every intentional literary choice that ran the gamut from made-up words and fictional realities well-structured beginnings and ends, opening at the close of each chapter that I could possibly be an author one day. More than anything, however, what J.K. Rowling had inadvertently presented me was a world of possibilities. With every swish and flick of charms and spells, discovery of secrets in a mirror of desire, a catacomb, and an ink-splatting diary, and grappling of grief at almost every unavoidable turn, there now existed a probability of passion that manifested itself in a creation of offshoot narratives (read: rabid fan fiction), snaking my arm in the dark like Nagini to retrieve a loaned copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where I had to read it in the dead of night dark under the sheets with a faint glow of light just like Harry in the Prisoner of Azkaban, and an inordinate amount of time dissecting, dismantling, and disproving every clue and conspiracy on threads and discussion boards on mugglenet.com.
It wasn’t just the lure of magic, the overture of myths, and the flighty temptress of adventure that drew me in, of course, because deep within the spaces of make-believe that J.K. Rowling postulated was a keen understanding of the human condition. In Harry Potter, she defied the tropes of literature, subverting her stories with psychology, empathy, and reality that accelerated acceptance and most importantly, incubated a sense of joy from the reader. This obsession of my youth was more than just a stack of books that kept me busy during the summer with yet another reread of what I had already devoured—it was a sense of clarity that made me see truthfully and feel deeply in a world that was created to be above everything: kind, brave, and connected.
But not everything is as they seem, or in this case, were, because as if someone had flicked a wand to fling a revelio curse over the span of a little less than a year, J.K. Rowling was revealed to be nothing more than a fraud in the fundamentals that she has schooled us in her school of witchcraft and wizardry. However, just as Harry Potter has taught us to never be complicit to the hypnotic flourish of absolutism, we are compelled to move past the limits of our impressionable youth, this time challenging and demanding accountability from the powers that may be, even if they turn out to be our long-revered heroes.
In the penultimate chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the wise Albus Dumbledore explains an important lesson to our hero: “Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” It therefore is most bizarre that it comes from the comprehension and pen of J.K. Rowling who recently found herself embroiled in yet another brush with tone-deaf and insensitive social media behavior over her overtly transphobic remarks she expressed on Twitter.
“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,” J.K. Rowling writes, stretching her transphobic rhetoric into a callous disregard for their truth and identity. “The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense. I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”
There is a lot to unpack from this disturbing and alarming incoherent defense, primarily because not only does it expose her as a TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist, a deeply embedded offshoot of misogyny that argues transgender women are men, and should be exempt from the legal and social protections afforded to women who are biologically assigned female at birth), it essentially betrays the very values she has been writing about for years in her illustrious work of fiction. Invalidating the cornerstones of tolerance, compassion, and equality that form the moral foundations of the Harry Potter series, this deeply disturbing dismissal by J.K. Rowling clearly illustrates how conditional her alleged support and love for the LGBTQIA+ community is, joining in arms only when it doesn’t supposedly threatens the femininity she is dictated by. This maligned and misinformed point-of-view is not only unbecoming of an author who once spent her time preaching of world we everyone is included and necessary.
(For future references: There are no ifs and buts in the enduring fight for equality.)
In fact, fragments of insightful inclusivity peppers the rich mine of stories in the Harry Potter canon, with the noteworthy ones including Hagrid’s “I am what I am, an’ I’m not ashamed. ‘Never be ashamed,’ my ol’ dad used ter say, ‘there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth botherin’ with,'” and Dumbledore’s “Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery” in Goblet of Fire. It is most disappointing that for someone so incisive and thought-provoking would be reduced to a fraction of the great that they once were, priding themselves with a skewed set of morals that are above everything dehumanizing to a disenfranchised community fighting for their identities and their lives.
Operating with no fear of consequence, this isn’t the first brush of J.K. Rowling with realized transphobia. In December last year, the queer-baiting orchestrator of the beloved Potterverse verbalized her support for anti-transgender researcher, Maya Forstater, a disgruntled employee who was condemned by the court as “incompatible with human dignity.” In a very telling tweet, she wrote: “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 stating that sex is real?”
Again, she hurls the blanket statement that argues sex is real, obviously discrediting gender identity as a whole. This impish insistence is baffling, especially since trans women do not want to take anything away from other women, let alone J.K. Rowling, who at this point has become a caricature of both malicious Rita Skeeter and the malevolent Dolores Umbridge. So, what is she threatened by? Besides, if we were to level things for argument’s sake, it can be said that it is the author who brandishes her pen as a double-edged sword, capitalizing on the trans identity as she infamously assumes the persona of Robert Galbraith, her nom de plume for such works as The Silkworm, where she references a trans woman character, Pippa, as aggressive and unhinged, making serious asides to the words “pre op” and “Adam’s apple,” which are known sensitive touch points for these women. What a sham and shame. Yes, I mean both.
Thankfully, no one is buying into her B.S., with everyone from fans of Harry Potter to the boy who lived himself, Daniel Radcliffe firmly arguing that trans women are women—point blank, period. “Just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something at this moment.Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I,” the actor intelligently articulates in a blog entry on The Trevor Project website. “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual; 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.”
This isn’t just an outburst of disappointment, but without being too dramatic, a shattering of everything I hold true and dear to me. Intrinsically a part of the person and writer who I am today, this is painful and personal. In Harry Potter, I, along with many other queer human beings, have found a respite in your world and words, J.K. Rowling, and to see you undo all that you’ve built is truly the saddest thing. Through this precious work of literature that I hold to an almost biblical regard, it seems as if your hands stained with the blood of discrimination has smeared through the pages that holds the stories that not only shaped and guided us, but most importantly, saw us for we truly are sans judgment and prejudice when no one else could. If you could hero characters who would typically fill up the margins of the page or look from the outside such as Harry Potter, Luna Lovegood, Sirius Black, and even Dobby the House Elf, why is it so difficult for you to extend the same level of compassion to trans women and consequently, the queer community as a whole?
But before all hope is lost, Albus Dumbledore once again reminds that“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” underscoring that when all is said and done, intent is the true measure of greatness, nothing else. And in this regard, you have failed your own words, which truth be told, is the greatest let down of it all. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
You once said in the beginning of this magical journey you cast, through the wizened guise of the great Headmaster of Hogwarts that it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. As someone who once considered you to be that friend who just got it, it is with resolve through the legacy of the books I still love, just as I assume the others do, too, that no one will have to feel less by what you have said, nor will anyone believe that their world is nothing more than a cupboard under the stairs in number four Privet drive. There is magic within us, and you don’t have to even write that.
Oh, and the scar you have indelibly left? It will not pain at some point—all will be well.