On the 7th of June, 2020, J.K. Rowling replied to a tweet sharing an opinion piece titled “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate” by writing “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure they’re used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”.
And help her out they did. The Twitter community immediately exploded and people from different nations, sexualities, genders, and economic status almost rallied together to inform Rowling of how transphobic her tweet was. Instead of the apology that was extremely necessary and expected, she responded with a series of tweets explaining how “if sex isn’t real” then that erases the lived experiences of women, same-sex relationships, and the ability of people to “meaningfully discuss their lives”, implying that this is what the Trans Rights Movement is doing to do the world. As if it is the responsibility of Trans individuals to shrink their identity to fit the socially acceptable definitions, instead of the responsibility of inclusive movements like Feminism to expand their understanding and support to include the diverse presence of intersectional identities in the world.
This isn’t the first time that Rowling has exhibited such blatantly discriminatory behaviour, as last year she publicly supported a woman who had been rightfully fired for making transphobic statements. Her stance was problematic and harmful then, and it is dangerous and discriminatory now as well. However, there is something particularly disturbing about the fact that at a time when the entire world is rallying for different movements emphasizing on inclusion and equality especially for Black and Trans individuals, it is the one month where LGBTQ+ pride is in focus, and there is an actual pandemic going on that is definitely disproportionately affecting marginalized individuals, this is the conversation that she chooses to bring to the forefront.
While the trans community is the one she is actively discriminating against, other LGBTQ+ individuals, Trans allies, and members of the Harry Potter fandom are also speaking up about the disappointing and dangerous way that the author is deciding to use the influence that she has because of the global community that has loved her work. As one of those people, I cannot help but reflect on how I have always taken a stance against the idea of separating the art and the artist because ultimately it is the artist whose ideas made up the art and whose bank account will benefit from it. Separating the two always meant to me that we as a society are saying that “We don’t care if you are a terrible human being and are potentially harming real individuals, as long as you are good at what you do professionally.”
I have been one of the millions of people around the globe whose lived experience has included being a part of the Harry Potter fandom- all of us started with getting Tumblr accounts or following Harry potter pages on Facebook as a way to express love for a fantasy series that we loved, but somehow the fandom actually ended up evolving as a whole to become a space where inclusivity and love were preached because most people joined during their preteen years and turned it into a space where we had conversations about privilege and progressiveness together because that is what the stories signified to us. The way that the fandom read it, it was literally a tale that began with explaining how no one deserved to live in a closet.
The lack of space for LGBTQ+ literature, including trans literature, was made up for by fanfiction sites where Drarry (Draco+Harry) became one of the most popular ships, with Huna (Hermione+Luna) being a close second. Stories about Harry and Draco being trans women also regularly become the fandom’s favourites. While all that J.K. Rowling gave to the LGBTQ+ community was a gay Dumbledore- that too in retrospection- we had art and poetry and long, sprawling novels with versions of the characters that actually felt like our own. And to years later have the author that created the magical world that we claimed as our own come and say that there are people that don’t belong- or people that don’t deserve the same rights that everyone else does- is heartbreaking as an ally of the Trans Rights Movement. I cannot even begin to imagine what is going through the hearts and minds of people belonging to the Trans community who had also previously seen the Harry Potter fandom as a source to draw support and love from- a space where we could all be our most authentic selves.
However, what the very nature of the support towards Trans Rights that has come out from the Harry Potter fandom- especially the LGBTQ+ individuals within it- has shown that just because millennials and Gen Z fall in love with an artist’s work does not mean that they refuse to be critical towards them when it comes to social justice. Not only have Harry Potter fans spoken up against her publicly, but Fan Artists have also actually started creating new art revolving around the Harry Potter theme supporting the movement as a means of protest against Rowling. It is not just the fans, but also the celebrities that directly benefited from J.K. Rowling’s work who are speaking up. Katie Leung who played Cho Chang in the movies used the conversation about lack of three-dimensional minority characters in the story to draw attention to donation links that support Black Trans individuals. Daniel Radcliffe actually came forward to apologise to Harry Potter fans and the trans community by writing a long statement for the Trevor Project, which is a non-profit focused on suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ individuals. Radcliffe’s write-up included the words, “Transgender Women are Women…Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I”.
It is due time that Rowling acknowledges the privileged status she has as a wealthy white woman that lets her not only make such blatantly harmful and disgusting statements but also empowers her enough for them to influence the discriminatory reality of the life led by actual living, breathing individuals. Her pen may have created literary magic, but that is nothing compared to the magic of the message of inclusion, love, and support being fought for by people on the right side of history that she is speaking against. All she could do was create a fictional world- while those rallying and supporting the Trans Rights Movement are actually brave enough to work to better the real one.