How to Continue Being a Harry Potter Fan and a Trans Ally
My immediate reaction upon waking up on December 19th to Rowling’s tweet was to write the piece, ‘This is not a drill; it’s time to cancel JK Rowling.’ In this piece, I heatedly talk about the issues surrounding cancel culture and the necessity of boycotting those who abuse enormous platforms that reach vulnerable children.
Following Rowling’s tweet and the resulting argument that I furiously tapped out upon waking up on December 19th, I accepted an invitation from Andrew Sims, editor in chief of Hypable.com, to record an episode of MuggleCast in which we discussed the ins and out of this Rowling scandal. Principally, we talked about why people should care about this and what Rowling’s tweet really means. That episode can be listened to or downloaded from the MuggleCast website, iTunes, or Google Podcasts. If you use a specific podcast listening app you can also use this RSS feed to load it: https://audioboom.com/channels/4855957.rss
As you can tell, I’ve been making kind of a big fuss about this debacle and if you want to understand more about why Rowling’s tweet was wrong I encourage you to read my first article on this and listen to the MuggleCast interview.
This particular article is not to sway anybody that the tweet was wrong. Rather, this followup is to answer a question I keep hearing Potter fans ask:
“Okay, so Rowling was wrong. Can I keep enjoying Harry Potter and still be an ally?”
Yes, you can. What you can’t do is keep on supporting Rowling unless she issues an apology and makes amends to the trans community.
I would like to see Rowling apologize, as well as Warner Bros, cast members, and other associated parties distance themselves from her statements. Following a very public round of apologies, she and her business partners then need to make some sizable donations to trans youth organizations.
Still, Rowling’s defense of a TERF is so unforgivable that some trans people may never forgive her. That’s valid, and while I do hope that Rowling makes things right, she has some serious work to do to make amends for what she’s done.
The Real Problem with Rowling’s Support of Maya Forstater:
Something I didn’t spend enough time discussing in my last article about Rowling was how the “Sex is real” comment so grossly mischaracterizes what actually happened to Maya Forstater and how she manifested her own reality by lobbing hatred, intimidation, and disrespect toward vulnerable marginalized women.
I think this is the most confusing part of Rowling’s tweet, as it cleverly puts trans people in a position of explaining that we do, in fact, believe that sex is real in the sense that genitals and secondary sex characteristics certainly exist and we, uh, have them. It’s just that queer people have been telling cisgender/heterosexual people for decades that sex is hugely irrelevant to gender. Despite how antithetical the mindset is to actual feminism, TERFs insist that gender is immutably linked to sex. This mindset has literally no basis in science and lacks an understanding of chromosomes or the commonality of intersex characteristics in humans.
Forstater was working as a tax expert with the Center for Global Development, a nonpartisan think tank. Using a work email, Forstater regularly took to Twitter to harass, doxx, misgender, and deadname trans people.
When Forstater’s employer, Center for Global Development, discovered what she was doing they were understandably horrified. In response to this, Forstater’s employer simply didn’t renew her contract, having decided that she didn’t represent their values. Forstater sued and a judge agreed with the employer that Maya’s behavior online an absolutist point of view and “…is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
This is a very good thing — the dignity of trans people was upheld, and what we are seeing here is nothing more than a cisgender, heterosexual white woman flexing her bigotry and is throwing a fit after not getting her way. What Rowling did was lend credence to a figurative toddler’s tantrum, lending her 14 million Twitter followers and unimaginable reach outside of social media to a bigot who was, otherwise, reaching under 20k people with her message.
Yes, Rowling abused her platform to amplify hate.
Forstater has even stated the following, and I must emphasize that this is a direct quote:
“…framing the question of transgender inclusion as an argument that male people should be allowed into women’s spaces discounts women’s rights to privacy and is fundamentally illiberal (it is like forcing Jewish people to eat pork)”
- Maya Forstater, in employment trial
Which… aside from being violently transphobic and logically fallacious, Forstater also manages to add antisemitism into the mix. As if trans women being in women’s spaces is equivalent to a person’s covenant to be kosher being forcibly broken… Which is to say, Maya Forstater thinks that having to accept the existence of trans women constitutes not just a violation of her personal beliefs, but a forced affront on her autonomy and personhood.
Basically, my existence apparently detracts from Maya’s despite her being the one who has attacked my community.
This is who Rowling is supporting.
On Harassment by Trans Antagonists like Maya Forstater:
Not to put too fine of a point on it, but every time I post my writing online I find myself terrified that I might catch the attention of someone like Maya Forstater, which could see my online social spaces turn from a trans oasis into some kind of transphobic hell. See, what Rowling did directly serves to empower someone who holds so much hatred for trans women that she spends her free time harassing us online in the name of fake feminism.
I am talking about my fear of backlash mostly because trans people will often go to great lengths avoid speaking publicly due to the ugliness of attacks when things we write, say or do go viral. The fear of attacks keeps many of the most important voices among us silent, and that’s partially why Rowling’s TERFism is so dangerous — her voice is bigger than ours and her newfound transphobic stans don’t see us, trans women in particular, as human beings worthy of respect, privacy, and dignity.
TERFs are more than just transphobic.
Being a TERF is not the same as being just a transphobe. Transphobia is a wider category, and where there’s flexibility there’s room for growth. But there is no flexibility with TERFs, and in the rigidity and hatred that serves as its foundation, we have a more of a hate cult on our hands than an ideological stance.
Pairing their hateful ideology with how they groom young, malleable women on social media, we start to see how TERFs and AltRight movements share a lot of things in common. Other shared acquisition strategies are the application of disingenuous decoy phrasing, what we call “dog whistles,” and mass gaslighting to appear more as conscientious objectors than hate-motivated trolls. The main difference is the demographical refocusing, but aside from that, hate tastes like hate, and when people start organizing hate and actively recruiting to it, it starts to become a cult, and Rowling by virtue of the size of her platform just posed herself as their leader whether she likes it or not.
We need allies to take a stand.
I am here to let Potter fans know that I honestly won’t pull their proverbial “ally cards” for continuing to interact with J.K. Rowling’s universe. But… I might do just that when folks who call themselves allies defend her or keep on supporting Rowling’s franchise as if this didn’t happen. Sure, I would have to create an ally card, issue it, and revoke it, but I think the effort invested would itself be a wicked burn.
As an ally one’s job isn’t to just be quietly “okay with trans people.” Allies also have to actively use their voices to fill in the gaps where trans voices are going to be disregarded by cis people before we even open our mouths to speak. I can express myself eloquently, I can cite my sources, and I can plead for my words to be heard, but nothing I can do will lend me the ears of cisgender people in the way that cis people are heard by their peers. An important side note is that while most social change happens by direct engagement with our detractors, a lot of trans people don’t have the emotional space available to fill their time up with educating cis folks who want to debate our right to exist. Fighting to exist is exhausting, and for that reason alone so many of us need cis allies to speak up at every single opportunity that arises.
The beautiful thing right now is that a lot of Potter fans are doing just that, and it’s wonderful to see the fandom showing support for my community. This Rowling incident isn’t isolated, however. Anti-trans rhetoric is amping up worldwide as we become more and more visible. Trans folks (at least my circle of people, on and offline) are very much fatigued by scrutiny right now and we need our allies to step up and call out transphobia. We need cis people to correct people who misgender or misname us. If you haven’t yet, please take on the daily task of being an ally to a community that is dearly in need of allies.
We need you, and I do not say that lightly.
“So what’s the point of this? Can I keep reading Harry Potter or is that canceled, too?”
Harry Potter is a fictional character and is therefore not canceled.
The main misunderstanding I’ve seen taken away from my “cancel” piece is the idea that I am hard-lining a stance that one absolutely must boycott not just J.K. Rowling but also her body of work to be a proper ally.
I’m not suggesting that even a little bit. Potter fans, please don’t burn your Harry Potter merchandise; I’m certainly not. I haven’t even moved my extensive collection from its place of prominence on my bookshelves because ultimately it’s not entirely Rowling’s stories that have upset me and my community, it’s Rowling herself… though don’t get me started on the transphobic characterizations in her Post-Potter works — that is an article for another time.
I’ve avoided speaking directly at the audience so far, but now I am most certainly talking to you personally, whoever made it this far and wants to ease their fan-guilt:
Please keep enjoying what you own, both for the fact that you paid for it and that burning treated and printed paper is probably bad for the planet or something. Getting rid of things you spent hard-earned money on will not remove that money from Rowling’s pocket.
In summation: Yes, do keep enjoying Harry Potter — but don’t keep supporting J.K. Rowling.
Moving forward I will delicately suggest that allies stop paying further into her universe. You can absolutely still read, listen, watch, or otherwise engage with what you own free of guilt, but I will be waiting to engage with the future installments of Rowling’s universe until they hit streaming platforms or become otherwise available through completely legal means, I swear.
That said, I’m also not going to harshly judge people who continue to buy things from the Potter world. As I mentioned in the MuggleCast episode, I don’t know that I’ll be able to stop myself from buying the Jim Kay illustrated versions as they continue to be released. This, for me, is most strongly about minimizing support or endorsement of J.K. Rowling as a means of support for the trans and other LGBTQIA+ people who still find a home in her stories.
Harry Potter has been part of my life for so long that completely removing it from my home feels like a compromise of who I am as a person, and I would never ask someone else to throw away their collections. If Tolkein was alive today there’s a good chance he would be canceled for being a transphobe or saying something horrible about women, and I’m not in the business of ripping out valuable stories from someone’s life just because the author otherwise sucks.
I will continue enjoying these stories, but I will make them mine and you can do the same. Harry Potter taught me and many other LGBTQIA+ kids how to accept our differences, and I will not have that taken away from me. It’s mine. It’s yours. It’s Rowling’s, too, of course, but I would argue that she left her mark and now her stories belong to the fans more than to her at this point.
We took away lessons from her works that she clearly doesn’t fully believe, and that fact doesn’t diminish the reality that for many of us, trans and cis alike, queer or not, Harry Potter taught us first what it means to accept those different from ourselves.
While I think that it is necessary for all allies who are close to the Potter universe to state their allyship in straightforward terms, I also don’t think that we need to stop enjoying these stories. What allies need to understand is that your trans friends are waiting for you to start calling out transphobia, especially when doing so is uncomfortable and inconvenient and/or makes you call out a public figure you otherwise like and appreciate.
For trans Harry Potter fans of my generation, this hurts more — our childhood icon came out against us. Cisgender discomfort with supporting the trans community is nothing compared to the discomfort of being trans and entering into a space in which you’re not sure if your presence will be embraced, ignored, scoffed at, removed, or screamed at until we remove ourselves.
I would like to finish this piece with a simple call to action: If any of your trans friends or family are Potter fans (and like receiving hugs), go hug them and let them know that you’re their ally, not Rowling’s.
That is the line in the sand. Support us, not Rowling.
Want to do some direct action? Donate some money to a trans person’s GoFundMe. Donate to a trans person’s name change, medical procedures, or other requests for funds. Trans people are disproportionately low-income and homeless and your help could save a life.
My friend Luna is homeless and needs money for three months of rent — please consider reading her story and donating anything you can.
If you’d rather donate to a non-profit organization that benefits trans people, please consider giving to the Trans Lifeline, one of the world’s first suicide hotlines specifically for trans people, staffed by trans people. This resource has saved my own life and I hope you give something if you have the means, follow them on social media, or otherwise spread their message of love and acceptance. TransLifeline operates in the US and Canada.
You may now continue with your regularly scheduled Potter binge, and thank you for reading.