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Harry Potter and the Controversial Author: The Impact of J.K. Rowling’s Transphobia 

J.K. Rowling’s name being crossed off of the cover of a Harry Potter book. Many are trying to find ways to enjoy the Harry Potter series separate from its author. Illustration by Pearl McNames.

The Harry Potter series is one of the most popular book and movie franchises of all time. It is loved by people of all ages and all over the world. However, recently there has been a lot of discourse surrounding its author, J.K. Rowling, and her views on transgender people. “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,” tweeted Rowling in 2020. “It isn’t hate to speak the truth[…]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 there, so let’s take a deeper look at why this tweet made people so upset. First of all, most of the argument in favor of trans rights is not that sex doesn’t exist or trying to “erase the concept of sex,” as she had implied. It’s more along the lines of the idea that gender is a social construct. Rowling says that she would march for trans rights if trans people are being discriminated against. They are. Every single day. The fact that she phrased the situation as a hypothetical shows her true ignorance on the issue. Another problem with this tweet is that she spoke of respecting trans people living the way that is most comfortable to them, but proceeded to go to her personal blog and write: “When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.” 

In Rowling’s response to the pushback that her statements caused, she spoke a lot about her experience as a woman who has been sexually abused and how this caused her to have feelings of unsafety around men. As a cisgendered woman, I see where she is coming from when she talks about how women are historically abused by men, verbally, physically, and sexually. She’s right; the world we live in creates an environment where women fear men for the potential they have to cause harm. But, statistically trans people are over four times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than cis women. I just can’t get behind her saying that opening bathroom doors to trans people would cause absolute chaos. That is ridiculous for a multitude of reasons: first of all, when you go to a public restroom, there is no one at the door checking your ID to make sure you’re “really a woman.” If a cis man was really so heart set on harming a woman, he could just walk in the door. There is nothing stopping him, and still this is a rare occurrence. So with this in mind, why wouldn’t you just give trans people the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re making the best choice for themselves? They shouldn’t have to prove to everyone in the bathroom that they are a woman just because they don’t look how Rowling would like a woman to look. And on top of that, the risk that is posed for a trans woman using a men’s restroom is much higher than the risk that cis women are presented with by allowing a trans woman to use the women’s restroom.

Many of us grew up reading and watching Harry Potter. The Goblet of Fire was the first book I ever read on my own. It’s been really important to me for my whole life. It’s a story that is so heavily based on magic, love, and finding belonging, which is why it was so disheartening to see Rowling make such awful comments about a group of people, many of whom are of the Gen Z and Millennial generations who were able to find acceptance in this series from a young age. Rowling’s transphobia surfacing put many Harry Potter fans in a sticky situation. 

The 20th Anniversary Reunion special on HBO: Return to Hogwarts heightened feelings of confusion for many. Which despite appearing to have no involvement with Rowling, still used interview clips of her throughout the program. Some people have cut themselves off from the fandom entirely, but for some it’s hard to completely cut themselves off from something that helped shape who they are, and was a place for them when they were sad or lonely, or just needed a little comfort. “When those statements first came out, it made Harry Potter a spoiled, bad thing for me. It made me not want to like it. If she created it, it felt wrong to still enjoy it,” said Elena, a Franklin senior and longtime Harry Potter fan. I think right now it’s important to try to find a middle ground. It’s okay to like Harry Potter, but be aware of the nuances of the situation. Treat it like any other piece of media and hold it to criticism; nothing is perfect. Sophie Reece (12), who is transgender and a fan of Harry Potter, says “I think the biggest thing is acknowledging the facts and not trying to ignore them. Listening to the trans community about these issues, and trying not to buy officially licensed merchandise will really help in separating Harry Potter from its creator.” 

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Harry Potter and the Controversial Author: The Impact of J.K. Rowling’s Transphobia