On JK Rowling’s Recent Comments

I’m sure many of you have seen JK Rowling’s recent comments on transgender people and how including transgender women and cisgender women in the same group erodes the experience of cisgender women. As this all began on Twitter, that is where I’ve been most vocal. I’ve shared articles, shared the experiences and reactions of trans women, and made my stance clear: trans women are women.

(If you’re not up to date with what’s been happening, these two articles – here and here – have been recommended to me as good representations of the timeline of events and some of the reactions.)

But beyond that, I haven’t written much, haven’t written anything more in depth. I’ve wanted to but with my mental health and cognitive skills (including my concentration) so drastically affected and constantly fluctuating due to my pandemic anxiety, I haven’t been able to sit down and finish anything that I felt said much more than ‘I disagree with JK Rowling’s tweets,’ something which I have already said. I would never want my voice to take the space that belongs to a trans person but then I don’t think this post will do that: it’s simply my little corner of the internet where I get to talk about the things that are important to me and this is important to me. And to remain silent feels like a betrayal. If you are transgender, I support you. If you are non binary, I support you. If you do not fit into society’s expectations around sex and gender, I support you. I support your right to explore who you are, be who you are, and live your life unchallenged, unlimited, and unafraid, and I will do all I am able to help that become a reality.

As the topic has, in this case, been brought into the spotlight by JK Rowling, I’d like to write a little about her. My relationship with all JK Rowling is has become increasingly complicated as time has gone on and as I have grown older and more aware of the issues in our world and the discrimination against different groups of people in our world. 

As a child – I must’ve started reading the Harry Potter books when I was about seven or eight – I didn’t really connect stories with their writers. They were just glorious worlds to fall into with characters whose journeys you followed. The writers were simply a name on the front cover. I loved the world of Harry Potter and many of the positive experiences of my childhood (and beyond) are connected to it. It had a massive impact on my life and my own desire to tell stories and for that I’ll always be grateful. 

Then, as a young teenager, I became more aware of JK Rowling as a person, both in connection to the world of Harry Potter and as a person, and was honestly really impressed by her: her creativity, her dedication to her work, all of her charitable work and contributions (losing her billionaire status after donating more than £120 million to various charities), and how she stayed in the UK and paid her taxes because she believed it was her duty, having received financial support from the government before her writing afforded her such wealth. I really respected her for that and while I still respect those good choices, they do not excuse her recent comments, for which many people (myself included) will never be able to truly forgive or forget, even if she takes it upon herself to apologise, learn, and take serious positive action.

I know that as a cisgender person I cannot truly understand what it’s like to be transgender and I can admit to having limited academic knowledge. But I do have multiple transgender friends who have been generous enough to share their experiences with me and I have been close enough with some of them to have been present during some of the discrimination and difficult experiences they’ve faced. That has made it a very emotional issue for me, having seen my friends hurt like that. I do want to have a more intellectual understanding as well though so, as soon as I can focus enough to read again (as I mentioned earlier, the cognitive symptoms of my mental health problems have worsened since the onset of the pandemic), this is something I really want to pursue. I’ve sourced a collection of recommended books and reputable articles to read as soon as I can actually concentrate and absorb the information.

As nice as it would be, it’s probably naive to believe that we can simply divorce the creation from the creator. Rowling’s prejudiced comments are cause for concern about whether these harmful views are present in her work, are present in the world of Harry Potter. There are certainly problematic aspects, for example the naming of Cho Chang, the anti-semitic stereotype present in the Goblins, and the slavery of house elves – the existence of the latter two could be ‘explained’ by the fact that magic doesn’t automatically make for a perfect society had anyone seriously addressed the prejudice and inequality but they didn’t, apart from the odd comment or throwaway plot line. Having said all of this, the books are out in the world and I think that the best we can do is discuss the issues they raise, how they translate to the real world, and how we can address these prejudices, individually and as a society* – not an easy goal but a worthwhile one nonetheless.

(*in an understandable and digestible way considering the age of the reader.)

I would just like to touch on Fanfiction briefly because I think there’s a certain kind of magic in that it allows us to dig into the holes and stereotypes and problems and write stories to challenge the problematic parts and flesh out the things that weren’t properly explored. I’ve read some great stories that seamlessly integrate transgender characters and how Hogwarts accommodates (i.e. the rules about who’s allowed in which dormitories), some that explore the history of different magic (such as the development of wands in order to control who can use magic and how wandless magic may have evolved so that women could use magic without them), some that have the characters examining why history so often repeats itself, some that challenge the stereotypes of the Hogwarts houses and the repercussions that they can have on impressionable eleven year olds, and so on. Fanfiction allows us to make these worlds bigger and more complex and look at them through different lenses and I think that’s a really wonderful thing to have access to.

But back to the matter at hand, I don’t think that all of this – JK Rowling’s obvious (and harmful) views and actions – necessarily has to ruin the stories or the positive experiences we gained from Harry Potter, especially considering all of the good messages in them. But then I don’t know if I’d be able to say that had I not started reading the books before I connected them to authors with opinions and prejudices and big platforms on social media. I know that for many people this will have irreparably damaged their relationships with the stories and that makes me deeply sad. I’m reminded of what Daniel Radcliffe said in response to the tweets: “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you.” Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could store away the things we love(d) in a time capsule so that they could remain untouched by the outside world?

I confess that I’m having trouble reconciling my feelings for the woman I admired as a young teenager and the woman I’m now seeing as an adult. I’m grateful for the gifts she gave me, both through the world of Harry Potter and the telling of stories, but I cannot and will not support her while she spreads such harmful and incorrect views. If she’s going to comment on something that has the potential to endanger an already vulnerable group of people, especially with a platform as big as hers, it is her responsibility to be thoroughly educated on the topic. I am deeply disappointed with her lack of empathy.

So, to conclude this post, I’m going to celebrate Rowling’s recent birthday by making a donation to Mermaids (a charity that supports transgender and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families) and to a series of personal fundraisers to help some transgender people get the support they need.

“I think trans women, and trans people in general, show everyone that you can define what it means to be a man or woman on your own terms. A lot of what feminism is about is moving outside of roles and moving outside of expectations of who and what you’re supposed to be to live a more authentic life.” – Laverne Cox

One Comment on “On JK Rowling’s Recent Comments

  1. Pingback: And A(nother) Week In My Life (In Lockdown) | Finding Hope

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