Content Warning: This article addresses transphobia, racism, and homophobia.
“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 for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill.”
This is what J.K. Rowling tweeted on December 19th, 2019. This tweet references Maya Forstater, a researcher fired from her job for retweeting transphobic content. The case went to court, and Forstater ultimately lost since the judge believed that her tweets were “incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others.” Though Rowling’s support of Forstater’s transphobic ideology sparked an uproar amongst fans, she has yet to make a statement or apologize to the transgender community.
Now that J.K. Rowling has written a transphobic tweet herself, there is no denying the fact that she is a transphobe.
This tweet is not an isolated incident, though previous instances have been less overt. Rowling has a history of “accidentally” liking tweets with trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) rhetoric. Articles about trans-women being rapists and a danger to cisgender women have repeatedly ended up on Rowling’s like history. Her publicist claims that J.K. Rowling liking these blatantly bigoted posts was only a “middle-aged moment.” Now that J.K. Rowling has written a transphobic tweet herself, there is no denying the fact that she is a transphobe. Fans are faced with a decision: support a woman who continuously degrades an incredibly marginalized community, or ignore the evidence and continue to worship her for the cultural impact of Harry Potter .
While I was disappointed by Rowling’s openly transphobic tweets, I wasn’t surprised, as I have come to expect very little from the beloved Harry Potter author. It has been clear to me that she has no respect for the LGBTQ community ever since she declared, after all seven books were published, that Albus Dumbledore was gay. When people expressed confusion over this retroactive decision, Rowling justified this exclusion by doubling-down that that was because Dumbledore’s sexuality was not relevant to Harry’s journey. However, even when given the opportunity to portray Dumbledore’s sexuality in her script for The Crimes of Grindelwald, a movie about Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship, nothing is shown.
In addition to the bizarre disclosure of Dumbledore’s sexuality, there are other elements of the Harry Potter series that are overtly stereotypical. Take, for example, the goblins that work at the wizarding bank called Gringotts. These hooked-nosed, gold-hoarding creatures echo historically anti-Semitic caricatures. Even if she wasn’t consciously aware of the similarities, I find it unacceptable that Rowling has never apologized for this choice. Another example of blatant stereotyping is that the only Chinese character in the books is named Cho Chang: a mishmash of Korean and Chinese surnames and a character that blatantly stereotypes Asian-Americans. What’s the point of including a racial minority if you’re going to be so incredibly insensitive? We can brush off Harry Potter’s shortcomings and call it a product of its time. However, Rowling still has a duty as the writer of an enormously influential series to take responsibility for her mistakes.
You can be a white, straight, cisgender author and write books that feature characters who are marginalized without talking over marginalized writers.
Rowling should take a page from Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson novels. Riordan’s initial series wasn’t particularly diverse, but the more he wrote, the more he included diverse characters that were written in a thoughtful and authentic manner. He also has his own publishing imprint—Rick Riordan’s Presents—that publishes novels based on myths from minority communities written by minority authors. You can be a white, straight, cisgender author and write books that feature characters who are marginalized without talking over marginalized writers. The characters in Harry Potter are not reflective of our society. Rowling should accept that and strive to produce content that properly reflects our society. The fact that she hasn’t and instead has chosen to make off-handed remarks about a character’s sexual history without apology proves to me that she doesn’t care about marginalized communities at all.
There are so many books that are written by people who care about marginalized readers and make conscious efforts to rectify their wrongs when they write insensitive content.
While I’d love to ignore all of Rowling’s antics and just focus on authors that do care about minority groups, I find this incredibly difficult to do as an avid reader. Harry Potter is one the biggest cultural phenomena of the 21st century and nothing that Rowling says or does can change that. Like many people of my generation, I read all the books, watched all the movies, and when Pottermore sorted me into Hufflepuff, I saw it as an affirmation of my personality. But over the years, I’ve found books that have resonated with me much more. There are so many books out there that aren’t written by bigots who only add representation to their stories out of obligation and not because they feel that it’s important. There are so many books that are written by people who care about marginalized readers and make conscious efforts to rectify their wrongs when they write insensitive content. Harry Potter has nostalgic value for many people, but these readers should try to detach themselves from that nostalgia and broaden their horizons — there is so much more out there.
While I used to look up to the woman who wrote Harry Potter for being a struggling single mom rejected by over ten publishers, I have long lost that reverence. J.K. Rowling is a transphobic bigot who doesn’t seem to care about her marginalized audiences, and I refuse to support her. I think you could still find comfort in Harry Potter while still acknowledging all the harm that she has caused, but personally I can’t do that. I can’t read a series that is about standing against darkness and evil while ignoring all the bigotry that Rowling stands for.