The last few months haven’t been a great time to be a Harry Potter fan- particularly not if you’re also LGBTQ+, and even more particularly not if you belong to the “T” part of that equation. J.K. Rowling’s recent Twitter activity and long-winded spiel of transphobic dog-whistles and conspiracy theories (no, giving trans kids puberty blockers is not “a new kind of conversion therapy”) have- to put it mildly- made things difficult, especially for those of us who grew up with and were influenced by her work.
(For a complete analysis of why Rowling’s “essay” is transphobic, I’d strongly advise checking out the below video, made by Jamie Raines and Shaaba Lotun, for a literal full breakdown.)
As I discussed in my recent post, ‘The Harry Potter Fan’s Guide to Dealing with J.K. Rowling’s Transphobia’, your relationship with Rowling’s fictional work is- especially if you’re trans- your personal choice, and no-one else’s. Some people have cut themselves off from the fandom entirely, some are rejecting everything written by Rowling but sticking with fan-made contributions to the wizarding world, and some are taking a “keep the art, ignore the artist” approach.
With that in mind, I’ve run through my memories of the books and compiled a list of quotes from Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts that, whatever Rowling now claims, can clearly be seen as affirming and promoting trans people’s rights to autonomy and respect. Ones that call out prejudice. Ones that encourage us to be ourselves. And ones that remind us, as Charlotte Clymer so beautifully puts it, that ‘trans people, who leave our homes every day into a world full of discrimination and violence against our bodies and souls, are the closest thing this world has to magic.’
Number 10: “We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”
Kingsley Shacklebolt, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Kingsley Shacklebolt is always a good person to have around in a crisis, and this is possibly his best quote from the entire series. Warning listeners of underground radio station Potterwatch not to let their fears get in the way of helping others- especially those more vulnerable than them- Kingsley makes it clear that there’s no such thing as compromise when it comes to human rights and equality. Of course, trans people regardless of gender pose no threat to other vulnerable groups, including cisgender women, whereas the threat of the Death Eaters is very real. But the heart of Kingsley’s words still stands. Everyone deserves to be allowed to live with dignity, free from fear. And that includes trans people.
Number 9: “There are no strange creatures, only blinkered people.”
Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Hopefully this goes without saying but to be clear, I do NOT mean to imply through this quote that trans people are in some way “less human” than cis people. I chose this iconic beasts’ rights quote of Newt Scamander’s because, if you mix up the nouns a little, it makes a beautiful point about diversity among humans. Different ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities- they’re not strange or abnormal or wrong, except to people whose ignorance of anything different makes them afraid of it. A human-applicable version of this line could be, “There are no strange people, only blinkered ones.” Either way, the sentiment remains unchanged.
Number 8: “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
When Harry, Ron, Hermione and Sirius are discussing Barty Crouch Sr., Hermione is fixated on his cruel treatment of house elf Winky, something that Ron initially dismisses as irrelevant- at which point Sirius whips out this super-quotable line. Here, of course, ‘inferior’ should not be taken to mean inherently so in a moral, intellectual or any other sense; Winky is ‘inferior’ to Crouch because she is viewed as lesser by wizarding society, and has far fewer rights than her human “owners”. Similarly, trans people are one of the most persecuted minorities on the entire planet, subjected to disproportionately high levels of discrimination, mental illness and suicide, and sexual violence (see below), with trans women of colour possibly drawing the shortest straw. The fact that Rowling is using her platform and influence- starting during Pride Month, no less- to promote dangerous, misleading claims that can only legitimise and exacerbate the hostility that trans people face today… well, it says an awful lot about her. And none of it’s good.
(And no, trans women don’t automatically have privilege over cis women because they were “socialised as male” bla bla bla. More on that here.)
Number 7: “Yet, sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often. Best to say nothing at all, my dear man.”
Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
After Rowling published her “essay”, which among other things included alarmist rhetoric about gender non-conforming young people being “transed”- again, see Jamie and Shaaba’s video for a takedown of all her nonsensical points- trans children’s charity Mermaids took care to reiterate that “If you haven’t listened to trans kids, don’t speak about them”. Similarly, if you’re an ally you’ll understand that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (see link above) had very little right to spout her opinions on whether trans women are women are not (they are) while nobody seemed to be asking trans women about their feelings on the matter.
Similarly, anti-trans people often like to frame their beliefs under the guise of “legitimate/reasonable concerns” as Rowling did- she even claimed to ‘know and love trans people’- yet when you look under the surface, as people like Jamie and Katy Montgomerie have, the toxic and damaging implications of their words are easily revealed. Also, let’s not forget that Rowling kicked off the whole debacle with a tweet dismissing and mocking trans men and non-binary people who menstruate. Just like Vernon Dursley, whom Dumbledore is addressing here, transphobia claim that ‘I don’t mean to be rude’, but the rudeness really isn’t hard to find if you actually stop and think about it.
If your ignorance and prejudice mean that your words will hurt people, sometimes it really is best to say nothing at all.
Number 6: “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Over the weeks following Rowling’s anti-trans outpourings, what broke my heart was the number of fans- people I almost considered friends- falling over themselves to justify and excuse her words, and sometimes outright applauding them. I’m pretty sure this stemmed not just from ignorance surrounding the trans community and/or their outright believing her statements, but also from a deep aversion to believing anything bad about her because our childhood hero couldn’t possibly not be a good person… could she?
Thankfully, at the same time we’ve all seen plenty of people- both within and outside of the trans community- who likewise have admired or had good relationships with Rowling, but who haven’t let this stop them from seeing through her rhetoric and affirming their support for trans people. They range from fans like Jake Edwards, who wrote this heartwarming article, to actors who work or have worked with her like Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson. And that can’t have been easy. But you know what? We have a duty to challenge bigotry wherever we find it, even if that comes from someone we look up to or even count as a friend. The fact that this feels difficult is the very thing that makes it brave.
Number 5: “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Dumbledore’s words at the end of Goblet of Fire are some of his most eloquent and iconic in the entire series. And lifted from its immediate fictional context, it’s a wise and timeless point about how the bigoted and prejudiced like to “divide and rule” marginalised people, and the urgency of listening to, understanding and accepting others in order to stop them from getting what they want. More specifically, those words could teach a thing or two to the small but vocal minorities within the feminist movement and LGBT community who seek to exclude trans people from both. Rowling’s “essay”, for example, portrays trans rights as being in opposition to women’s rights, while the so-called LGB Alliance claim that to acknowledge the importance of gender identity and respect trans rights is homophobic because it invalidates the concept of same-sex attraction (or something).
To advocate prejudice and cruelty against trans people, however, only serves to help patriarchal, misogynistic, white supremacist and homophobic circles to reinforce their ideals and make things worse for all minorities. If Rowling were to re-read her own books, perhaps she’d realise that. True feminism is trans-inclusive, and is much better off for it.
Number 4: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”
Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Transphobes love the word “biology”. Seriously, they can’t get enough of it- mainly because their understanding of biology stops at around GCSE level, and is therefore wildly simplistic. Usually, their condescending lectures directed at trans people consist of (for example), “You were born with a penis and XY chromosomes, therefore you’re a man.”
This is ridiculous for multiple reasons. Firstly, if your reproductive system determines your gender, this makes things just a tiny bit complicated for intersex people. Secondly, while the typical allocation of chromosomes is 46XX for a woman and 46XY for a man, variation- while rare- definitely exists.
And thirdly, there’s a certain amount of hilarity in transphobes’ so-called science, since their version of human biology apparently starts at the genitalia, travels up the body and stops somewhere around the area where a cis man’s facial hair might grow. Yet a person’s gender identity- i.e. their innate sense of their self as male, female or non-binary- occurs in their brain and, the last time I checked, any study of the brain can be neatly filed under ‘Biology’. (Indeed, one recent study suggests that gender dysphoria has a basis in genetics: the trans women who took part were found to have an overload of four genes that process sex hormones, possibly meaning that their brains develop differently to cisgender men’s.) In other words: yes, a person’s gender identity is technically “all in their head”- but that doesn’t make it less important than other aspects of their biological makeup, like chromosomes. If anything, it’s more important. After all, when a person’s gender identity is at odds with their sex assigned at birth, being forced to live as the latter causes a lot of unnecessary suffering, while transitioning and living in accordance with their gender identity has the opposite effect. To cut a very, very long story short: if you’re trans, then of course your gender is happening inside your head. But why on earth should that mean that it is not real?
Number 3: “He knows what you were born, not who you are.”
Nagini (to Credence Barebone), Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
To be clear: trans women are born women, trans men are born men and so on. It’s just that initially, their exterior bodies don’t match up to what’s going on in their brains (see above). (Having said that, while some trans people reject the more established narratives- e.g. “she used to be a guy but now is a woman”- others are fine with them, something I recently got schooled in by Philosophy professor Sophie Grace Chappell):
In any case, if we apply this quote to trans people’s experiences, ‘what you were born’ can and should be taken to mean ‘the gender you were assigned at birth, based on your primary sex characteristics’. And for a trans person, their sex assigned at birth is not ‘who they are’. To put it another way: if you view and treat a (for example) trans man as a woman because he was “born a girl”, a.k.a. when he was born the midwife/doctor looked at his genitalia and announced “It’s a girl!”, you’re not respecting him for who he is. (And someone should really explain to Rowling that the same goes for “feminists” who claim that they’re not transphobic because “they include trans men in their activism”… because they see them as “biological females”.) Whether it says “Female” or “Male” on your birth certificate, that doesn’t dictate who you are.
Likewise, in that exchange with Credence, Nagini recognises that whatever it says on Credence’s birth certificate, and whatever surname his biological parents have, that doesn’t dictate who he is as a person. Sadly, he doesn’t listen- and Rowling isn’t listening either.
Number 2: “I am what I am, an’ I’m not ashamed.”
Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I mean… this one says it all, really. Trans people, both on the internet and in “real” life, are constantly told that they’re lesser, or a danger to society, or both- just as Hagrid is when Rita Skeeter outs him in the press as half-human, half-giant. Trans people who don’t “pass”– for example, a woman with a “masculine” face and a deeper voice- are often the easiest targets for transphobes, because it’s harder for them to hide the fact that they’re transgender, but those who do pass, if they’re open about being trans, also come in for their fair share of harassment and abuse. You’re delusional, you’re mentally ill, you’re a man fetishising womanhood, my daughter(s) need protection from you, you’ve mutilated your body, you’re not a real man/woman, well then I identify as an attack helicopter- the list goes on.
In the face of all that, it takes a lot of courage for trans people to be out and proud and unashamed of who they are, when it often feels like the entire world wants them to be the opposite. If it’s physically safe to do so, however- after all, in many countries just being openly trans is illegal– one of the most empowering things you can do, as Hagrid realised thanks to his friends, is stand up and say, ‘I am what I am, and I’m not ashamed’. In fact, the trans Potterheads interviewed for this article include someone with whom that line seriously resonated growing up, as did what Hagrid says next: “Never be ashamed,” my ol’ dad used to say, “there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth bothering with.”
And you know what? Personally, I don’t think Rowling’s worth bothering with either.
And finally, last but most certainly not least:
Number 1: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
And, yes, when I say Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I mean, well… the film. Literally, the ENTIRE. BLOODY. FILM. Or at least the screenplay Rowling wrote for it, but same difference.
I mean, read it. Read the script- the whole thing. Specifically- although it’s also true that Queenie can’t help being a Legilimens, and Newt’s creatures are not the danger they’re made out to be- focus on Credence’s storyline. Look at his life, look at the facts. In the same way that being trans, like being gay, is an innate part of her person’s nature- you don’t choose it, you’re not indoctrinated into it and it can’t be “cured”- Credence’s magical powers are an innate part of his nature. And magic, like being queer, isn’t inherently good or bad; it’s just there.
Mary Lou, of course, can’t see that. To her, magic is evil (and probably indicative of corruption by Satan, although the clear signs that she’s a fundamentalist Christian are never outright confirmed despite her anti-witchcraft cult being based in a literal church), and she tries to force it out of her son with both physical and emotional abuse. But Credence can’t just stop being magic- he was born with it, it’s part of him. So rather than get rid of it, he suppresses it, possibly without even realising that he’s doing so, as a survival mechanism ‘to avoid persecution’. In this, he is similar to a large proportion of “detransitioners”, aka people who go back to living as their assigned-at-birth gender. (Incidentally- see Jamie and Shaaba’s video, again- they make up only a minuscule percentage of the trans community.) There are various reasons people do this, but the most prominent one is that while they are still trans, it simply isn’t safe for them to live in accordance with their gender identity- for example, because of transphobic family members.
And does suppressing his magic make Credence grow up into a healthy, non-magical adult? Hell no. On the contrary, ‘instead of learning to harness and control [his] powers’, as one might experiment with one’s pronouns and gender expression, his magic becomes ugly and corrupted, turning him into the host of an Obscurus- an unstable, parasitic force that can be seen as a metaphor for mental illness. While an Obscurus can cause external destruction (and the similarities briefly stop here, since trans people are not more likely to be violent than cis people), the real tragedy is how it destroys its host. Most don’t survive past the age of ten and, while Credence has so far made it to adulthood, he’s far from healthy, exhibiting self-destructive and even suicidal behaviour, and possibly one bad day away from his Obscurus finally killing him.
Did I mention that trans people are more at risk of mental illness and death by suicide than cis people? Oh, and here’s another study from just last week.
In other words, the Obscurus can be read as a metaphor for the self hatred that is often forced on trans people by those who shame and hurt them just for being who they are. Self hatred which, in the worst case scenario, leads to that person’s death.
And yes, this applies to words to. Words like J.K. Rowling’s. Perhaps if she re-read her own debut screenplay, she’d be reminded of the tragic, damaging impact that prejudice and bigoted words can to do vulnerable, young people.
Although- let’s face it- she probably won’t.
After all, she wrote those books, and yet she’s still wilfully ignoring their messages of courage, compassion and pride in who you are that resonated so much with the young LGBTQ people she’s betrayed.
But you know what? This is one of those times where we absolutely can separate the art from the artist. As Daniel Radcliffe said, ‘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.’
If you’re trans and these quotes speak to your experience, that’s between you and the world and the characters, the ones that live inside your head and burn far brighter than the narrow boxes one bigoted writer intended to confine them in.
No-one can take that away from you. No one at all.
Especially not J.K. Rowling.