The Harry Potter Fan’s Guide to Dealing with J.K. Rowling’s Transphobia

Well… here it is. With the amount of space on this blog that I’ve dedicated to characters and stories created by J.K. Rowling, mainly within the Fantastic Beasts series… well, we knew this was coming, right?

Before I go any further, I should clarify that one, I’m not trans myself. And two, if you’re trans then I promise that I’m not trying to speak over you, or to suggest that I know better how you or anyone else should be reacting to Rowling’s behaviour. But recently, I’ve seen some troubling responses from other fans, who are falling over themselves to find reasons to defend her. In light of this- and having done some serious conscience-examining myself- I hope that this post, heavily informed by the opinions of various trans people and allies, goes some way to educating other cis people. In particular, I hope it helps anyone who is trying to figure out how to balance the impact that Harry Potter has had on their life, with the need to stand with those whom its creator has deeply hurt.

Before we continue, let’s get one thing out of the way:

Transphobia = Trash

Trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary people are whoever the hell they identify as. Anyone who feels that it’s ok to demean, mock, abuse or attack trans people in any way is expressing beliefs ‘not worthy of respect in a democratic society’, and thoroughly deserves to be held accountable for their bigotry.

And yes, ‘everyone’ means everyone.

So, for any cis HP fans out there who are thinking of tweeting #IStandWithJKRowling, here’s a handy guide for actually dealing with her transphobia.

Step 1: Don’t deny it

When people of colour explain why whatever crap that’s most recently emerged from Donald Trump’s mouth is racist, you should probably listen. Similarly, when large numbers of trans people react to something with words along the lines of “this is transphobic and extremely hurtful”, saying “Well actually-” is NOT. THE BEST. COURSE OF ACTION HERE. There are multiple sources I could direct you to that outline why Rowling’s comments demonstrate anything but the “love” for trans people that she claims, but for now I’ll settle for:

Step 2: Don’t start defending transphobia

Please, for the love of [insert deity here], don’t let whatever anguish you feel at the idea of criticising JK Rowling drive you to find excuses for the transphobic myths that she’s swallowed and is using her influence to promote.

The so-called “gender-critical” movement has come up with a lot of on-the-surface “reasonable” claims to justify their desire to limit the rights and visibility of trans people, many of which Rowling brought out in that blog post. Letting trans women into single-sex bathrooms, refuges etc. will allow predatory cis men access to such spaces; children are being indoctrinated into believing they’re trans when they’re not; etc., etc., etc.

None stand up to scrutiny, and if acted on by lawmakers they risk forcing trans people- including children- into the closet on a permanent basis. (Which wouldn’t help cis women in the slightest, by the way.)

I’m not going to analyse for you why the myths peddled by anti-trans bigots are wrong, because that would require someone with a lot more time and patience… and what do you know, quite a few trans people and/or allies on Twitter clearly have both, because that’s exactly what they’ve done! My personal favourite is this insanely long but absolutely worth reading thread by Andrew James Carter: https://twitter.com/Carter_AndrewJ/status/1270787941275762689.

Seriously- please, PLEASE make sure you read the whole thing.

For anyone who’s especially hung up on “biology”, check out these articles: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/stop-using-phony-science-to-justify-transphobia/; http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/gender-lines-science-transgender-identity/.

Then there’s this one by Katie Montgomerie, explaining why trans people are NOT the enemies of the concept of biological sex, as some of Rowling’s tweets suggested. (Spoiler: literally the first sentence of Katie’s article is, ‘Sex is real.’)

And finally, if you do literally nothing else, please at least read this open letter to Rowling from the staff of Mermaids: https://mermaidsuk.org.uk/news/dear-jk-rowling/.

There are many, many more people I could direct you to, but the above sources should help you develop your own research on the issue.

Image shows Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. Text reads: “Besides, you’re saying it wrong. It’s TRANSPHOBIA, not ‘defending biological sex’.”

So we’ve established that you’re not going to spout anti-trans talking points, or defend people who do. Great! Now, next on your (well, our) agenda is:

Step 3: support trans charities, trans fans and ex-fans, and trans artists, writers etc. (And allies.)

If this is a difficult time for you- assuming that ‘you’ = a cis person- then I get that. When Rowling first made her anti-trans views explicitly known back in December, I cried for hours. Seriously, I was a complete mess. And her most recent word/tweet-vomit was even more disheartening. But honestly… your confusion, and pain, and maybe anger? Nothing compared to how trans people, particularly those who grew up half-living in the books and idolising Rowling just as much as her cisgender fans, have been left feeling. (See Jake, Amanda Jetté Knox’s family, etc.) In light of Rowling’s statements, some trans people (like Jake) will be defiantly retaining their love for the wizarding world and its characters in spite of her. Some will take a middle ground, such as bypassing Rowling but shooting out fan fiction stories like there’s no tomorrow. And some will dispose of their books, films etc. and cut her out completely. Whatever decision your friend/relative/Twitter mutual makes, it goes without saying that you need to respect that. And if they are still a fan of Harry Potter, then your job- if you’re serious about wanting to be an ally- is to put in the work, ensure that they are welcome, supported and respected within the fandom, and stand with them against anti-trans bigotry.

Part of that is doing the research- the trans people and allies mentioned above are, as I’ve said, great places to start. I’d also recommend TransActual UK, a- guess where- UK-based organisation that aims to amplify trans voices, share facts and dispel common myths, including the ones that Rowling’s been peddling. Another part is supporting, if you can, charities that work to support trans people and/or the LGBTQ+ community at large, including feminist charities that don’t exclude trans people. The ones that Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe recommend- Mermaids, Mama Cash and The Trevor Project– are good starting points, but there’s also Gendered Intelligence, this GoFundMe supporting homeless black trans women in Atlanta, these other US charities, the Albert Kennedy Trust and many, many more.

Oh, and if (like me) you’re a cis woman you can sign this open letter to the UK Women and Equalities Minister- and it’ll cost you absolutely nothing!

And last but by no means least, explore and support the work of trans people (including people of colour) in the creative industries. This handy list from Book Riot, for example, contains an excellent selection to keep you going through lockdown. If visual art and/or music is more your thing, check out these contemporary artists and these musicians (and these ones!). When you find people whose work you like, support it financially if possible and regardless, promote and share it as much as you can. (Sigh- and no, this doesn’t mean the SJW thought police is forcing you to boycott cisgender artists or whatever. This is just about diversifying your reading list a bit, ok?)

And when you’ve done that, well:

Step 4: Don’t put your money where your mouth isn’t…

In other words, “Next time you’re about to splash out on Harry Potter merch please, please think about where your money could be going.”

This is, to be clear, hard for me to write because Fantastic Beasts in particular has been a defining part of my life since 2016. The characters have inspired me, especially Tina, and escaping to their world has been- and probably always will be- a welcome relief from the struggles I’ve been having over the past few years with anxiety, self-harm and other issues. I couldn’t wait- and boy has it been a long wait- to see the next film. But now? In spite of everything, I’m not sure I can. Because buying a ticket to that next film would mean on some level making a contribution, however minuscule, to Rowling’s income, and thereby implicitly legitimising her beliefs.

Our primary concern, however, should be what Rowling does with the money that millions have paid to read her books, watch the films, etc. She’s been notable for her philanthropy over the years, but where’s her money going now? Transgender Trend, whose mission is apparently to screw over trans kids under the guise of “protecting” them? To fund the legal fees of anti-trans feminist Maya Forstater? (If you’ve read Carter’s Twitter thread- see above- you should already get why defending Forstater does NOT make you a) a feminist or b) anywhere near a good person- but here’s another couple of articles by Dr. Veronica Ivy and Katelyn Burns, just to be sure.)

Text reads: She could give a great deal of money to bankroll transphobic campaigns to influence an already nebulous public opinion, yes.

Let’s just ask ourselves, do we really want to fund people like that? Even in relatively small amounts, even indirectly?

In the end, how each person proceeds is up to your individual conscience. It might help, for instance, to buy future books, films and affiliated merchandise second-hand, from a cite like worldofbooks.com. Or, if you really can’t hold off on that cinema trip, you could match that purchase with a donation to one of the charities I mentioned earlier. It’s up to you- but are you making the right choice, or the easy one? That’s the question we should be asking ourselves from now on.

Step 5: Hold on to your love for the Wizarding World (but only if you want to)

If you haven’t listened to the music of Lucy Spraggan (see my last post), you really, really should- it’s especially great if you’re going through a bad mental health patch. In any case Spraggan, who’s cisgender and gay, is evidently not vehemently anti-trans since this was her response to Rowling’s “statement”:

Text reads: That’s all my Harry Potter books in the fucking bin. JK Rowling being openly transphobic ain’t the one and has removed the magic. TERFs, fuck off. Trans women (WOMEN), I am fucking sorry the world is so ugly sometimes. I stand with you and will always defend your rights.

So as we’ve already discussed, for some people- cis and trans- Rowling’s fictional work has been permanently tainted by her actions, and the only possible response is to abandon it altogether. That’s an understandable and totally legitimate decision and one that you (whoever you are) have to respect if your friends/Twitter mutuals choose it.

However, it’s not the only response. Firstly, Rowling’s fictional world and characters have been an important and formative part of many of our lives. Plus, if we go by the “death of the author” theory, we can say that the versions of those characters in our heads are equally if not more valid than her conceptions of them. Secondly, those of us who’ve loved her work and who are now angered and horrified by her transphobia are influenced to feel this way (at least partly) by Rowling’s works themselves. I’m not even kidding- research suggests that reading the Harry Potter books increases the reader’s capacity for empathy and understanding towards marginalised communities. Broadly speaking, Rowling’s fiction stresses the importance of unconditional love, the dangers of extremism, fascism and prejudice in general, and the importance of standing with marginalised people- like, ‘y’know, trans people- in the face of oppression. Rowling’s abandonment of these issues- albeit while labouring under the delusion that ‘natal women’ are the ones in danger, and trans rights are the oppressive force- is all the more bizarre considering it completely contradicts her books’ message of courage and compassion.

Luckily, many fan sites and organisations are now using those principles to stand with and advocate for the trans community. Wizarding News, for example, has been notably uncompromising on the issue. Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron have likewise been vocal in their support for the LGBT community, as has the Harry Potter Alliance.

In addition, Harry Potter YouTubers are making it pretty clear where they stand, with Tessa Netting (see below) being a particularly good example.

The consensus for a lot of cis and trans people, then, is that it is possible to hold on to the fiction while still denouncing the author’s unethical behaviour. But again, this is completely a matter of what works best for each person: just remember that respect for your fellow fans’ decisions, and a commitment to upholding the rights of trans and other marginalised people, should be the deciding factor in our actions both within the fan community and outside it.

Oh, and above all-

Just one last item for your to-do list:

Above all, please try to avoid taking to Twitter to yell at the staff of The Second Shelf, a London bookshop that stocks rare, re-discovered and first edition books by women, for calling Rowling out.* (And yes, their inventory includes books by trans women.)

It really won’t help.

*Not going to name and shame here for obvious reasons, but to anyone who has done that: just stop.

2 thoughts on “The Harry Potter Fan’s Guide to Dealing with J.K. Rowling’s Transphobia

  1. This is such an important post! I can’t support JKR after everything she’s said over the last few months and couple of years, she’s been so hurtful to many people and the things she’s said are inexcusable. I’m not able to separate art from artist as other people have at the moment, I may be able to over time as HP was a big part of my childhood, but I’m not too sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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