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

Books That Teenage Me Loved

As today is World Book Day – probably my favourite day of celebration as a child and young teenager – I thought I’d do something special and list that I absolutely adored as a teenager. I have never been so enamoured with reading as I was as a teenager and most of my favourite books are still ones that I read as a teenager. So here are some of those books, in no particular order:

Noughts and Crosses Series by Malorie Blackman (or any Malorie Blackman book)

I read every Malorie Blackman book I could get my hands on and then I reread them until they literally fell apart. I truly adored them and it was these books, I think, that inspired me to pursue writing as a career, rather than just a hobby. I even sent Malorie Blackman the book that I wrote when I was twelve (I never got a reply but I’m fine…). The story of Noughts and Crosses takes place in a society where the dark skinned Crosses are revered and the light skinned Noughts are reviled. Sephy and Callum grew up together, unaware that anything separated them but as they get older, the divide gets wider and wider. As characters, I found them – and their relationship – complicated and compelling, and I was so invested in what happened to them. The narrative discusses racism, privilege, terrorism, relationships, the individual versus the society, the lack of easy answers… and the sequels continue to tackles those topics, from multiple viewpoints. It introduces questions like ‘why are plasters all made in one colour?’ and ‘why does the law treat people differently because of their skin colour?’ in a way that makes you want to know why, rather than feel ashamed because you don’t already know. I think that’s important in a book aimed at young teenagers.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I was pretty late to the John Green party but I’m glad I made it. I know that many people have issues with this book but I loved it from the first page. The story starts as Hazel meets Augustus at a cancer support group and it follows their relationship and their quest to meet their favourite author and how their health impacts and interconnects all of that. I really related to Hazel and how she approached the world; her thinking followed the same paths as mine. My emotions synched up with hers very easily. I’m pretty sure I read in a day and the story has stuck with me ever since. I also absolutely loved the film when it came out and it’s still one of my favourite films.

Deeper Than Blue by Jill Hucklesby

Deeper Than Blue follows the story of Amy, a thirteen-year-old champion swimmer after an accident that changes her life forever. It deals with grief and identity, losing dreams and finding them again, friends and family from the most unlikely places. It’s warm and funny and sincere and it’s one of the books that made me want to be a writer; I wanted to tell a story like this one.

Tomorrow When The War Began Series by John Marsden

I had the Harry Potter Series in my early teens and this series in my late teens. It begins when a group of teenagers go camping in the Australian bush and return to find their country invaded. Everyone they know has been captured and their only safety is their camping hideaway. It sounds like a bit of a cliché – kids forced to be heroes – but it’s so much more complicated than that. This group of very different teenagers go through a lot: the loss of people they love, learning to survive on their own in a wild environment, conflict within their group, whether or not what they’re doing is right, and wondering why this has happened. They’re thoughtful and desperate but they learn quickly, staging rescue attempts and attacks against the enemy. The war goes on and on and there are no easy fixes. I loved this series and I have all of them on audiobook as well. The characters are interesting and complicated and throughout the series, you can go from loving them to hating them and back again. I loved how deeply they all felt everything, how they didn’t just brush it off and move on – it felt real. Neither the achievements nor the failures were clear-cut. I recommend it to everyone because I love it so much. And the film is great too. This series, man. This series is SO good.

Blind Beauty by K M Peyton

I was the typical girl-obsessed-with-horses when I was younger and although I never read the more famous ‘Flambards’ books, I fell in love with ‘Blind Beauty.’ I don’t remember reading it for the first time; it feels like a story I’ve just always known. It follows teenage Tessa who, having been kicked out of another boarding school, finds herself in the racing stable on her family’s property. It’s there that she finds Buffoon, the ugliest, most ungainly horse the stable has ever seen but Tessa loves him and dedicates herself to training him. While I didn’t have the problems that Tessa has – nor the strength of will that she does – I identified with the way she didn’t seem to fit anywhere, and how deeply she felt that, how deeply she felt everything.

Harry Potter Series by J K Rowling

Almost everyone my age grew up reading Harry Potter books. So many of my childhood memories are tied to both the books and the films: my parents reading them to me and my brother, almost being late for school because we needed one more chapter in the car outside the gates, the endless debates about this character or that storyline, marathoning the films, staying up all night to finish the final book… I grew up with these characters and the stories were as real to me as my day-to-day life was. They’re a part of my identity now.

Small Steps by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar was another staple of my childhood (and is possibly the best book to film adaption ever, by the way) but Small Steps spoke to me on a deeper level. It follows one of the Holes characters, Armpit, and his life after Camp Greenlake and the events of Holes. He meets, and falls for, popstar Kaira DeLeon but things get complicated when his past actions come back to haunt him. It’s hard to talk too much about it without giving away details that are much better revealed in the book.

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine

It has been a long time since I read this book so please forgive me if my memory fails me here. The story follows Rowan as she copes with the loss of her older brother, with finding out that he wasn’t who she thought he was. The people she meets on this quest have a profound effect on her and while the details are a little blurry with time (I’m seriously considering sitting down and reading the book again after reading the blurb and reviews online), I remember so vividly relating to Rowan. She was thoughtful and perceptive and grieving. And I only loved her more because I almost ended up with the same name. It’s a story with a lot of tragedy but also a lot of hope.

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

I would call this one of the best scifi books ever but I haven’t read every scifi book ever so I’m going to call it one of the best scifi books I’ve ever read. It’s old and so some of the language is difficult to get your head around (I vividly remember my friend reading it while we were on holiday and every few minutes she’d ask me what a word meant and she’s one of the most intelligent, eloquent people I know) and the lives the characters lead aren’t particularly relatable anymore but the effortlessness of how the story unfolds is breath-taking. The suspense is almost claustrophobic and the ending is perfectly executed. I would say more but I don’t want to spoil it. Read it. Seriously.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is another one I need to read again. I first read it because one of my parents had bought me a ticket to see Markus Zusak speak and in typical fashion, I didn’t start reading it until the night before. But a few pages in and I was hooked; I read it in one sitting. I’ve never read anything like it, before or since. It follows a young girl called Liesel, living in Germany with a foster family during World War II, but the story is told from the point of view of Death, as if Death is a very present character. Unsurprisingly, the theme of death and mortality is prominent throughout the story. But it was the themes of reading and writing and storytelling that pulled in teenage me who was constantly writing stories. It’s the kind of story that makes you feel like you’re a different person for reading it.

So I hope this has been interesting and that something in here that has inspired you to pick up one of these books (or any book at all). What are some of your favourite books?

Describing Depression

I love words. I LOVE words. And that’s so viciously ironic for someone living with Autism and mental health problems because they are so difficult to describe, to talk about, to truly put into words. I’ve talked about how much I write and how much I document (this post here) and every now and then I think, “Oh my god, I’ve got it. That’s how it feels.” And then I go to therapy or I talk to a friend or teacher and I go to describe how I’m feeling and I’m just left scrambling. Because these things are so hard to put into words.

Let’s talk about depression specifically. This one seems to have a lot of metaphors attached to it:

  • Living in darkness – With the associations between light and good and happiness and therefore the associations between darkness and bad and sadness, the connection here is obvious. It’s also a metaphor that fits with the feeling lost and directionless and not knowing how to move forward. And living in it implies a terrifying finality.
  • Winston Churchill’s black dog – We can’t know for sure what Winston Churchill’s mental health was like, whether he suffered from mental illness, from depression, but he did describe periods of great despair that he referred to as his ‘black dog,’ that came and went as it pleased. (While I can understand this metaphor, I personally really don’t like it, being the owner of the the gentlest, sweetest black dog and therefore nothing like Churchill’s description.)
  • Having a dark cloud follow you around – Weather metaphors are common in mental health, maybe it’s the all encompassing nature, maybe it’s the lack of control we have over it that makes it a fitting metaphor.
  • Being surrounded by fog – Similar to the weather metaphor, it’s uncontrollable and overwhelming. It blots out the sun, makes good indistinguishable from bad, makes it difficult to make your way forward.
  • JK Rowling’s dementors – Everyone who’s read Harry Potter knows of dementors and the effect they have on people, essentially sucking the happiness, the joy, the life out of people. JK Rowling has talked about how dementors are the embodiment of her depression, not unlike Churchill’s metaphor.

There are more, of course: everyone has their own descriptions (and they can change depending on the particular state of the depression). On which note, I thought I’d throw in a few of my own:

  • Feeling like I’m filling up with water – When I’m deep in depression, I feel like my body is filling up with water and the water level gets higher and higher until it’s reaching my mouth and nose and I start to feel like I’m going to drown in it. And sometimes it feels like something more sinister than water, like ink or oil.
  • Feeling like I’m deep underwater – Sometimes I feel like I’m in it so deep that I can’t even see the surface so I don’t even know, which way to swim. And down there, I feel so alone.
  • Having a black hole in my chest – On a day to day basis, it drags everything in, making it difficult to even know what I’m feeling before it’s gone and on bad days, it’s so strong that it can feel hard to even stand up straight.
  • Feeling like there’s a darkness inside my chest, but deeper than is physically possible for a human body – That’s the only way I can describe this sensation. I understand the dimensions of my ribcage but it feels so much deeper than that, miles deeper. And there’s a darkness there, an ache, like this incredibly deep well of misery.

I posted this on Instagram a while ago:

IMG_2280

“Ever since I saw @littlepineneedle’s post and the hashtag #seemyinvisible, I’ve been thinking about it and how I could visually represent the things I struggle with. But in the end, I decided just to look at how I’ve been feeling lately. My mental health is a constant balancing act but lately, my depression has been overwhelming. It feels like there’s a black hole in my chest that’s trying to suck everything in and it’s all I can do to stand up straight. Nobody can see it and that only feeds it. It’s been really inspiring to see so many people sharing their stories over the last few days. This is one of the reasons why #mentalhealthawareness is so important: it helps us to feel less alone.” (x)

I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to do with this blog post. I guess, I’m just trying to put this thing into words.