The Time Has Come to Let Go of 'Harry Potter'
Photo credit: Getty Images - Everett
By Marie Claire
Harry Potter fans - yes, I'm talking to about the entire millennial generation - we need to have another tough conversation with us: we have to end our Harry Potter imagination now.
Last week, J.K. Rowling tweeted a transphobic comment (not for the first time). She quickly doubled these feelings and published a long essay in response to the backlash. Potterheads had to decide whether Rowling's denunciation and their anti-trans positions meant they had to denounce the entire Potter franchise.
Like so many others, I feel a deep, emotional connection to the series. It was the soundtrack of my whole life; Each new book coincides with its own milestone for young people. When the seventh and final book was published in the summer before my senior year of high school, it felt like Harry, Ron, Hermione, and I were growing into adulthood together - the highlight of their adventure was the highlight of me. Pottermore personality tests found that my Patronus was a silver cat and I was owed an Ollivander yew stick, which made me feel seen - and turned my specific qualities into unique powers that I could be proud of instead of loathe. The fact that it is customary to define yourself in terms of Hogwarts houses (proud Gryffindor) is a sign of how deeply personal this universe feels. The books felt like a place where I - we - belonged.
I am also a cis woman, which means that my feelings are not the point right now. As significant as the franchise was to me, if I really want to be the ally I imagine, it means that I have to take into account the damage Rowling (and possibly the entire series) of trans, non-binary, and gender damage has caused faulty people. Being a white cis woman gives me a voice - like a magical power, but a shitty one because it's a power that is denied to others. It is my job to use this "magical power" as a power for good and to say what nobody wants to say. If Rowling had been a parent of Hogwarts and heard that Lupine was a werewolf, Karen herself would probably have asked him to be fired for putting her little Hufflepuff in danger.
Rowling has come under fire several times for saying or submitting terrible things (as she noted in her essay). In December, she tweeted in support of Maya Forstater, remarked TERF (radical feminist with exclusion). And lately, people have pointed out some worrying or downright racist elements of the Potter series: Gringotts' goblins, creatures that control all the money in the wizarding world, are described in explicitly anti-Semitic stereotypes. The only Asian character in the series is Cho Chang. Rowling's stories, which take place in a school in the United States called Ilvernmorny, have been harshly criticized for appropriating and flattening Native American mythologies, borrowing generously from completely different tribes and traditions, and watering them down into something sweet and vaguely magical. The stories revolve around a white Irish settler who founded the magical school, which means there are no Native American witches or wizards at all. In the meantime, a "Pukwudgie", a creature from the Wampanoag tradition, serves as a side kick and is supposed to awkwardly represent all of the Native Americans. (Not to mention that Rowling's books treated Hermione's commitment to SPEW like a silly personality quirk that resembles a raw vegan.)
As a theoretically awakened coalition, people in my orbit can acknowledge these things, but we all seem particularly reluctant to think about canceling Harry Potter (whatever that means).
When we grapple with Rowling again, who turns out to be unsettling, to say the least, the argument “art against the artist” bubbled up - as always. The fans were worried and argued about whether we could still listen to Michael Jackson in good conscience or watch Woody Allen films now knowing what they were accused of. Is your cultural contribution enough to compensate for reprehensible behavior?
Thanks to my English Lit degree, I can surely conjure up a convincing case that Harry Potter should be valued independently of Rowling. My instinct is always to see a work of art, no matter what it is, as its own thing. Once you've created something and put it into the world, it no longer belongs to you. It takes on a life of its own; It's like a literary kid.
And that's the case when it comes to Harry Potter. Rowling is not the only creator of this universe as we inhabit it now. The actors who played in the films, for example, are indelible elements of the franchise, and many of the most visible stars have spoken out against Rowling's position on trans rights. See: Daniel Radcliffe's statement in The Trevor Project. After Rowling published her splitting essay, other stars began to cast her voice, including Emma Watson (Hermine Granger), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander) and Katie Leung (Cho Chang) to express support for trans rights in social media. Noma Dumezweni, who played Hermione on the stage play Cursed Child, and even Arthur Levine, who published the Harry Potter books, were also in favor of condemning Rowling's comments.
Some of these statements also included a comforting message to the fans: it's okay to love or have loved Harry Potter. "If you've found something in these stories that has spoken to you and helped you at any point in your life - it's between you and the book you've read and it's sacred," Radcliffe wrote in his moving Statement. Wright's tweet was: "If Harry Potter was a source of love and belonging to you, this love is infinite and can be accepted without judgment or question. Trans women are women. I see and love you, Bonnie x."
These words from people who directly created Harry Potter as we know him feel particularly soothing. I can't erase what this world meant to me when I was growing up. I agree with Radcliffe and Wright.
All of these analyzes and torments miss the point. Who hurts if we continue to lion a series written by a pronounced transphobe as generation-defining text?
Transsexuals are at increased risk of hate crime and violence, especially black trans women. The human rights campaign includes at least 26 trans and gender-based people murdered in 2019, although the actual number is likely to be larger due to non-reporting. Last week, two black trans women, Riah Milton in Ohio and Dominique "Rem'Mie" Fells in Pennsylvania, were killed. In the same week, the Trump administration reversed anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBTQ people (and especially trans people) from refusing medical care. This means nothing of living in a world whose infrastructure seems determined to deny the reality that trans-, non-binary and non-compliant people exist at all. Ideologies like Rowling's are active and deliberately cruel and dangerous.
I don't want to be one of those who say "I'm an ally!" and does nothing more than take part in a pride parade and feel moved by Call Me By Your Name. My childhood nostalgia cannot be more important than the trauma or physical security of a transperson. If I continue to call myself a "Gryffindor" or call Hermione a personal hero, appreciates a transphobic character, strengthens a hate group and puts people at risk, will I have a choice to give up the story?
The irony is that Rowling's books have taught us that no matter how young or seemingly insignificant, we must all make a contribution to the fight against evil. My high school senior quote was Dumbledore's last line to Harry: "Of course everything happens in your head, Harry. But why on earth should it mean that it's not real?" If I'm honest, it will probably always be one Giving space in my heart for this world that actually still feels very real to me.
But it's time for Harry Potter to dethrone himself from his place on the zeitgeist. We can no longer use the series as an ethical measure to measure right and wrong on a scale from Voldemort to McGonagall, or use Patronus Quiz as a form of self-assessment adjacent to astrology. We should consider closing the Cursed Child and Harry Potter theme parks. Because we cannot simply and completely separate Rowling from the wizarding world that it conjured up. If we patronize Harry Potter parks or films like Fantastic Beasts, she still benefits financially and her position of power remains uncontrolled. With this we give up the trans-life that endangers their public statements.
The wizarding world is not the moral sanctuary that it used to be. And because we're all adults now, we have to acknowledge that.
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Rowling himself wrote about Harry's thoughts: "It was important, Dumbledore said, to fight and fight and fight again, because only then could evil be kept in check, if never completely eradicated. "So let's fight. Let's take this opportunity to speak openly about anti-trans violence, TERFs, and the importance of a language that accurately identifies people - such as using correct pronouns or recognizing that not all women menstruate and not all menstruating women are women. It’s the least we can do to keep evil at bay.
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