It’s a certain someone’s birthday today. Unfortunately, that certain someone has needlessly spouted vitriol against transgender communities to the dismay of many readers who coveted her extremely popular magical book series. Of course, the certain someone is none other than J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series and now famous advocate of anti-trans everything. The feelings of pretty much everyone are hung in the halls of Twitter.com for anyone to see, but frequently, the views of those directly impacted by her statements get lost in the muddy waters of internet discourse.
For the sake of offering some clarity on the feelings of nonbinary and trans members of the literary world, Bookstr asked authors Mason Deaver and Hannah Abigail Clarke about their thoughts on Rowling’s rampant transphobia, and how to move on from Harry Potter’s stranglehold on YA.
Clarke had a deeper connection to the Harry Potter series, linking the books to memories of their mother reading it to them when they were younger.
“Rowling was inextricable from my literary upbringing, I think. There is no prior era for me. It’s HP all the way down.”
Deaver shared less of a connection to the series, surrounded by the books and movies as they grew up but not finishing the series until later in life. They were reintroduced to the series in their teens via Tumblr and Deathly Hallows content, but said that authors Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera influenced them more as a writer than Rowling ever did.
When asked about the impact of Rowling’s hatred, Clarke focused more on the impact her words had, and continue to have, on others, but expressed his own dismay and sadness at Rowling’s transphobia.
“My own feelings are not what I’d prioritize when talking about Rowling, her bigotry, and the impact on the scene, but needless to say it mega sucks, and I grieved like I’d lost an old friend.”
As a he/they butch lesbian identifying under the nonbinary and genderqueer categories, Clarke took particular offense at Rowling’s attempts to justify her transphobia by claiming she was protecting butch lesbians like them from transness. They found this particularly ironic, considering they knew very few cis lesbians.
“Rowling here conjures the image of me to protect me from myself, suggests in this way that my undoing would be for my own good. It’s paternalistic, gruesome, and exhausting,” Clarke said. “Her transphobia is violent in a slew of directions, and her callous evocation of defending lesbianism—I repeat, fucking oodles of lesbians are trans—as a cudgel against trans people makes me livid to the point of hilarity.”
In contrast, Deaver said they were definitely a fan of the series, to the point of getting a Deathly Hallows tattoo which they’re now actively trying to cover up. While Rowling’s transphobia shocked them, they found letting go of the franchise, which they hadn’t interacted with for a time anyway, easy.
“Despite being a fan, and having fond memories that connected my childhood to the Harry Potter world, it was easy for me to let go of the franchise, especially after educating myself on the gross issues with the series,” Deaver said. “After the things that she said? I can’t imagine wanting to stay connected to anything at all that she’s created or contributed to.”
Both authors mentioned how GOP Senator James Lankford quoted Rowling while blocking the Equality Act that would effectively protect trans people from discrimination when illustrating the far-reaching harm she caused.
“To say in the words of J.K. Rowling this past week where she wrote, ‘All I’m asking, all I want is for similar empathy, similar understanding to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats or abuse,'” said Senator Lankford on the Senate floor.
Her dedicated fanbase, and the power it grants Rowling, made both Clarke and Deaver stress the impact that her transphobia has as a public figure and beloved author.
“As she posts her increasingly unhinged transphobic bullsh-, a frankly bananas number of people read it and take it to heart, because they trust her, and they love the symbol her work has become,” Clarke said. “It is not to be taken lightly.”
Deaver said that Rowling’s transphobic stance encourages others to share similar views that might not have otherwise, making her influence and statements that much more dangerous. Deaver has received their own backlash as a nonbinary author, from cis and trans fans alike, rooted in a similar ignorance, heteronormativity, and gatekeeping.
“It matters less to me when a cis reader says they disliked my book or couldn’t connect with it. I never write for cis audiences, it’s just not what I’m here for,” Deaver said. “It’s when the reader spouts some nonsense about how my work isn’t trans, or how I got a detail wrong, as if being trans (or any identity for that matter) is a monolith, and we’re all expected to have the same experiences. It’s funny more often than not, sometimes frustrating.”
On top of this, her name, Deaver said, would lead parents to blindly purchase her books for their children, regardless of her damaging views, thus amplifying her views and power.
“Now I seriously doubt Scholastic would allow her to publish anything harmful,” Deaver said, “but then I look at her adult work, like in The Cuckoo’s Calling, where she writes harmful tropes about queer men into a suspect of a murder.”
“Separating the art from the artist” frequently floats to the surface in discussions surrounding Rowling. This idea, Clarke said, references Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author, a concept that says since authors, and their work, exists in a context and not a vacuum, it is possible to interpret their work in whatever way you see fit. But they drew the line at outward support for Rowling, which they viewed as support for her transphobic stance.
“What separating the art from the artist doesn’t mean is, ‘I totally can disconnect my monetary and social support of this author’s work while she uses said work to prop up her hate manifesto and not be a passive participant in her transphobic project,'” Clarke said. “This is about cash and social messaging. At this point, flashing Harry Potter merch reads as support of Rowling’s transphobia.”
Similarly, Deaver said that separating Rowling from her Potter franchise was possible, yet “incredibly irresponsible. They shared how even their own views bleed into their work, however accidentally, because art will always contain an expression of the artist’s personal perspective.
While they did say that choosing to continue supporting Rowling’s work while fully aware of her transphobic comments is a personal choice, they also posed the question of whether the supporter is a part of the group that’s been targeted, and whether they are allowed to forgive Rowling’s statements as an outsider.
“When I know how an artist feels about a group of people, especially marginalized groups, that is almost always at the back of my mind when consuming whatever it is they’ve created. I mean, I can’t look at Harry Potter anymore without thinking of her transphobia. It just isn’t possible for me.”
In regards to those who can’t seem to let Harry Potter go, Clarke encourages them to reflect on what exactly they love about the franchise. His love of Harry Potter didn’t even depend on the series itself. For them, the shared community built around the books focused more on the joint imaginings of the fans, the “shared lexicon” of Potter fans everywhere.
To Clarke, what made the novels great doesn’t have to belong to Harry Potter alone, and can transfer to other franchises and fandoms.
“The Harry Potter-ness of it was incidental,” Clarke said. “It sucks! I know it sucks, it’s heartbreaking and vaguely nauseating. Nevertheless, much of what made Harry Potter great was the people who loved it, and as we salvage what we can and move forward, we bring along with us ourselves.”
Deaver encouraged some serious self-reflection on the part of readers unable to disconnect from Potter’s magical world of wizardry.
“I would ask them to analyze why a children’s fantasy series that is over two decades old, that is filled to the brim with homophobia, racism, and antisemitism is so much more important than the respect and rights of marginalized people,” Deaver said.
They mentioned the grossly stereotypical, and wildly offensive, names given to BIPOC characters like Cho Chang, who was Chinese, and Kingsley Shacklebolt, who was Black. The anti-Semitic representation of large-nosed goblins who control the banks in the wizarding world, and Professor Lupin’s lycanthropy as a harmful allegory for AIDS.
“The series has so many problems, so many issues, and has caused harm to so many groups,” Deaver said. “Why is it so important to you? Ask yourself that. And then work on getting over it, because at this point, there’s no excuse for it.”
For those who have already parted ways with Rowling’s work of past, present, and future, Clarke recommended a host of books by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ authors producing amazing tales of textured imagination.
- Clarke’s recommendations:
“Nurture all the incredible imaginative power you might’ve used for works like Harry Potter in the past, and invest some portion of that passion in a trans and nonbinary author’s work,” Clarke said. “Look around and enjoy, there are so many gems to be found out there. New love will find you. Receive it well and share it as it comes.”
While not a fantasy buff, Deaver offered their own recommendations for Rowling alternatives that don’t come with vile transphobia.
“We’re living in an age where BIPOC, queer, disabled (and intersections of those identities) authors are being given chances they weren’t afforded before,” Deaver said.
- Mason’s recommendations:
Deaver’s own novels, while not of the fantasy genre, also pack quite the punch. Their novel I Wish You All The Best is even getting its own adaptation. IWYATB’s sequel I’ll Be Home For Christmas and The Ghosts We Keep offer their own page-turning delight.
Rowling may have an established hold on the literary world, but authors like Clarke and Deaver mark the new wave of authorship beyond binaries and hate.