Before reading: If you’re not already aware of the controversy surrounding JK Rowling, I recommend looking up some of it to contextualize this post. This article is the most up-to-date one I’ve found.
I love Harry Potter. The book series has influenced my life in so many ways. It was a place to escape to during hard times, it gave me deeper bonds with my friends, and set my imagination ablaze. I grew up as the characters did. Shortly after my fifteenth birthday, I remember holding the recently-published Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in my hands and thinking, with slight awe, about how we were both now 15. To say that this series has meant a lot to me is an understatement.
I was pretty disappointed when it came to The Cursed Child, and only read it once. This is pretty telling for me–I knew the main series’s books so well that I could tell which lines of dialogue in the films had been lifted straight from the novels. I stopped following much of the Wizarding World updates after The Cursed Child. I didn’t see either of the Fantastic Beasts movies, even though that was a part of the Harry Potter universe I was always interested in. At that point I was tired of the expanded universe. Eventually, I just stopped caring about what J.K. Rowling had to say about the series. It was great for a time. I could enjoy the books and the universe in my own way, and not have to be bothered when Rowling said things like “wizards used to poop anywhere they wanted” and “Harry Potter has ED”.
Yes, these are two real things that Rowling said.
Then something changed. While discussing Harry Potter at the beginning of the year, one of my friends told me that J.K. Rowling was a TERF – a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. I didn’t believe it at first. Rowling not only wrote my childhood, but at the time, I thought she was an LGBTQAI+ advocate. She’s donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charity, including charities for human rights. I did some digging, and found, much to my disappointment, that my friend appeared to be right. After I read Rowling’s tweet about Maya Forstater, I had hoped that it was a mistake or misunderstanding, and that Rowling would offer some kind of apology. I wanted to continue to like this author that I’d previously admired so much.
Instead, Rowling doubled-down on her transphobic beliefs in a multi-thousand word essay, confirming what so many of her fans already knew. I’m not going to re-hash everything she said on Twitter and in this essay; by the time you read this, there will already be a million think pieces online that can give you the history of Rowling’s downfall better than I can. But I am going to say that I feel hurt, disappointed, and betrayed by this author I once loved. If I feel this way, I can’t begin imagine how trans and non-binary Harry Potter fans feel.
I want to use this post as a way to get some thoughts down on something that I, and probably many others, have been grappling with. That is, separating the art from the artist.
This didn’t used to be something I worried too much about. Chik-fil-a hates gay people? Fine, I won’t spend my money there. Hobby Lobby denies medication to its employees and its founder loots artifacts from the Middle-East? Good thing Michael’s is just down the street, and not entirely despicable. It used to be easy to not support celebrities or businesses that I didn’t agree with.
Of course, nothing stays that simple. One of the first times I really had to make a choice to not support an artist happened to me a couple years ago. My sister and I both love the show The Office, and we exchange mix CDs for Christmas every year. Yes, mix CDs, because we want to pretend it’s still 2005. Two years ago, I decided to make her an Office themed CD. I included the most prominent songs from the show, even finishing it with Hunter’s infamous “That One Night”. But I encountered a dilemma when it came to including “Forever” by Chris Brown. It’s a catchy song, and it plays during one of the most iconic and heartwarming scenes in the show.
On one hand, $1.29 for a song is such an insignificant amount of money that it would make no difference to Chris Brown’s success or wealth. On the other, Chris Brown has a history of assaulting multiple women, most famously Rihanna (who he then said provoked him into hitting her). In the end, I decided not to buy the song. I couldn’t justify supporting this abusive singer, even in a minimal way. It went against everything I stood for.
Things are easy to get cluttered. Should I still listen to Michael Jackson’s songs if I bought them years ago? Is it ethical to buy from Amazon, knowing how terribly its workers are treated?
Should I read The Ickabog?
I wanted to when it was first announced. It was originally published for free online, and I’ve heard really good things about it. But I couldn’t forget it was written by a TERF.
No, I eventually decided. Even if it was free to read online, I didn’t want to give Rowling any more page views than she already had.
I obviously can’t speak for every Harry Potter fan who feels betrayed by Rowling’s hurtful beliefs. It’s more of a struggle than I would have imagined for me to accept that someone I admired can hold such hateful beliefs. This was compounded for me when I took her philanthropy into account.
In psychology, there’s something known as schemas. Schemas are mental ways that we categorize the world. For example, “dog, cat, bird” could be in a schema for pets, animals, or maybe even, “things that have bitten me”.
When we encounter new information, we have to create a new schema for it, or expand an existing schema for the new information. For example, we might put “bird” in the schema of “things that fly”. Then, after seeing an airplane, our “things that fly” schema now needs to include airplanes. People, however, aren’t so easy to categorize. It’s very difficult to change our schemas when it comes to both complex concepts, and things that are firmly set in your mind.
We like to put people in boxes that are simple to categorize and explain. This is one of the reasons why it’s so easy to fall into stereotyping others. In general, I would put a TERF in the “bad people” schema, a philanthropist in the “good people” schema, and a favorite author in the “people I admire” schema. The problem for me – and, perhaps, many people – is that JK Rowling has become harder to define.
I can’t ignore that she is using her considerable platform and online presence to spread false and harmful information about trans people and share her transphobia. On the other hand, I also can’t forget what the Harry Potter books mean to me.
In the end, I decided that I will not consume any more Harry Potter media than I already have. I’ve unfollowed Rowling on all my social media platforms. I won’t be supporting anything that J.K. Rowling puts out in the future, nor will I visit the Harry Potter theme park again (which doesn’t sound like a huge sacrifice, but I only live 3 hours away and could go). Even when it comes to recommending books for kids, Percy Jackson or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children are just as much fun as Harry Potter. And there will be a certain amount of guilt when I say what my Hogwarts house is.
And yet, I will always love the books.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you already know that Rowling being a TERF goes against everything that Harry Potter is about. It’s a story about how love is the greatest weapon we have, and that your real family and home may not be the one you’re born into. It’s a story that says however you’re born – poor, rich, Muggleborn – doesn’t determine the person you’ll be.
I grew up with these, and they grew up with me. The values at the core of the Harry Potter series: love, bravery, friendship, have never dimmed for me, even if the author has forgotten about them. These books will always be a big part of my life, and I can’t give that up entirely.
Of course, this is just the decision I have come to. This is something every Harry Potter fan has to figure out on their own. It’s okay if you can’t overlook Rowling’s transphobia, and give up on her and her work entirely. It’s okay if you’ve struggled with this. It’s okay to get rid of all your Harry Potter stuff.
If you do continue to support Rowling’s work, please think critically about what you are supporting and endorsing.
Remember that that greatest weapon we have against evil is love.
Trans women are women.
Trans men are men.
Trans rights are human rights.
If you want to help in the fight for the rights, safety, and health of trans people, please consider donating to a non-profit organization that supports trans people.
p.s., I’m not saying that you should donate and have the thank you note sent to JK Rowling’s publisher at:
c/o Bloomsbury Publishing
PLC50 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3DP
….but you totally could.