Jun 22, 2020
Interviews & Inspiration | Rhiannon Wardle
Whether you’re an avid Harry Potter fan or not, you’ve probably read about the recent transphobic tweets and essay written by J. K. Rowling, one of the most successful authors of the 21st Century. It’s an extremely upsetting time to be a fan of the franchise, and this pain feels particularly personal for transgender and queer fans. But while it is a completely valid response to boycott the series because of Rowling’s actions, it is also still okay to love Harry Potter. Nobody should feel guilt for feeling a strong emotional attachment to a cultural phenomenon that shaped their childhood.
For many people, Harry Potter has always been a place of magic, love and acceptance, but Rowling’s comments threaten to alienate life-long fans of the series. Even more seriously, her transphobic words pose a risk to transgender people who are trying to live their lives authentically every day, by questioning their identities and making false and dangerous claims about the transgender community. The fact that she has chosen to voice her opinions at this time demonstrates just how insensitive and inappropriate her comments are. The Black Lives Matter movement and the fight to end systemic racism should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Rowling’s choice to spout transphobic ideology rather than using her huge platform to support her Black fans and educate people on racism is an unforgivable misstep.
For fans who don’t want to let go of Harry Potter, it is good to acknowledge that it is not perfect by any means, even if it isn’t transphobic in its own right. The characters in the series are predominantly white, and they are all presumably heterosexual and cisgender since nobody is depicted otherwise. There are definitely insinuations in the series that Dumbledore is gay, and Rowling even confirmed this fact after the final book’s release. However, it is not enough to state that a character is gay without including any clear representation within the books or films. Her confirmation of his sexuality feels more like an afterthought to appease her fans, rather than something she genuinely wanted to express in the books or movies. If it was her intention for Dumbledore to be gay, we wish she’d shown more conviction. Nonetheless, as long as fans can acknowledge these flaws, it’s okay to love something that isn’t perfect. We must, however, accept that people have the right to feel angry at the lack of representation in the series.
Looking at Harry Potter’s flaws is important, but it is also important to remember why we loved it so much in the first place. There is a reason why the series has fans from all over the globe and a huge LGBTQIA+ following. Harry Potter is the ultimate alternative reality for people looking for escapism from their real lives; queer people feel a connection to Harry, who was isolated and ostracised in the Dursley’s conservative family home. A huge theme of the series is fighting prejudice – Voldemort, the embodiment of evil, believes that pure-blooded wizards are superior to muggle-born wizards, and indeed, muggles themselves. Harry and his friends not only fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters, but also fight prejudice in the Ministry of Magic, a large corporation that governs the lives of witches and wizards. This demonstrates the importance of calling out corporations and governments for systemic issues, instead of just trying to fight prejudiced individuals. Harry Potter teaches that you are worth being loved and being listened to, even if you feel unlovable. Hagrid is a giant, but we know him for his kindness and gentle nature. Lupin is a werewolf, but he is one of the best teachers and guardians that Harry encounters. Both of these characters are ostracised and ridiculed to some extent, but in the series they are depicted overwhelmingly as good people, and are favourite characters of many fans. Leading on from this point, Harry Potter is all about the power of love prevailing over all. The main story arc rests on Lily Potter being able to shield Harry from evil purely with her love, and there are many more examples of love prevailing throughout the series. What does this tell us? That Rowling’s transphobic comments are incompatible with the message of Harry Potter.
While Rowling’s comments have done some irrevocable damage, it is a great relief to the fanbase that many actors from the Harry Potter movies have condemned her views. Daniel Radcliffe stated “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.” Emma Watson offered her opinion by saying “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren't who they say they are.” Rupert Grint released the statement, “I firmly stand with the trans community and echo the sentiments expressed by many of my peers. Trans women are women. Trans men are men. We should all be entitled to live with love and without judgment.” Bonnie Wright posted, “If Harry Potter was a source of love and belonging for you, that love is infinite and there to take without judgment or question. Transwomen are Women. I see and love you, Bonnie x.” Evanna Lynch wrote, “I’m so sorry to any trans people who feel that’s been taken away or that this community is no longer that safe place. But the Harry Potter world/fandom/community is literally made up of millions of people now and I for one will work to make it feel inclusive because trans women are women.” These statements from the cast members can’t undo the pain caused by Rowling’s comments to the trans community, but they help to demonstrate that Harry Potter never belonged to one person. The fans, including trans and queer fans, are what made Harry Potter the phenomenon it is today, and so it belongs to them just as much as it belongs to Rowling.
If you want to read and watch Harry Potter, there are some things you can do to make sure Rowling doesn’t receive your money. Consider borrowing books and DVD’s from friends if you don’t own them, and if this isn’t possible, buy them second-hand online. Fortunately, there are likely to be an abundance of Harry Potter books and movies in the homes of your friends or in second-hand stores and charity shops. Another thing I urge you to do is donate money to trans charities. Showing your support and love, and donating to trans people is much more useful than boycotting Harry Potter. Of course, if you don’t feel like watching or reading the series anymore, this is completely within your right and understandable, but it is entirely your personal choice.
I’m highlighting Black trans charities in this article because Black trans people are most in need right now. In recent weeks, Tony McDade, a Black transgender man was killed by police, and Nina Pop, a Black transgender woman was stabbed to death. Even more recently, two Black transgender women, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton were murdered within a 24 hour period. This is devastating, and the least we can do is protect other Black trans people so that this pattern of homicide and brutality does not keep repeating itself. Here are just a few Black trans charities you can donate to:
Marsha P Johnson Institute: Named after the activist, performer and drag queen, Marsha P Johnson, who was a prominent figure in the 1969 stonewall uprising. The charity protects and defends the human rights of Black transgender people. https://www.flipcause.com/secure/cause_pdetails/NjY0OTc=
Black Trans Travel Fund: The charity provides Black transgender women with the financial resources necessary for them to be able to self-determine and access their safest travel options. https://www.blacktranstravelfund.com/donate
For The Gworls: Actively fighting to reduce homelessness rates in the Black transgender community, as well as to lower the risk for affirmative surgeries being done in ways that put them at greater health risks. https://linktr.ee/ForTheGworlsParty
The Okra Project: The Okra Project is a collective that seeks to address the global crisis faced by Black trans people by bringing home cooked, healthy, and culturally specific meals and resources to Black trans People wherever we can reach them. https://www.paypal.me/theokraproject
If you love Harry Potter and also whole-heartedly support trans people, please consider donating to these charities. There is a place in the Wizarding World for everyone, and it is our duty to make sure that all feel welcome in this magical space.