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- British novelist
I used to be a big Harry Potter fan. I had the lampshade, the bedcover, the wallpaper – all merchandise containing illustrations of the book. Since the day my friend came into primary school cradling the Philosopher’s Stone insisting that I borrow “the best book she’d ever read” I was hooked, we all were. We knew that JK Rowling had promised seven books and for the next 18 years we waited eagerly for each new release.
We weren’t so into it that we’d queue at Waterstones at midnight, witches' hat and cape providing shelter from the rain, but when each book arrived it was a race to the finish. The schedule was cleared and we disappeared day and night turning page after page both because we needed to know what happened and because if you didn’t someone at school would turn to you and say “Snape dies” when you were midway through maths. Kids can be so cruel.
By my twenties, Harry Potter was a source of comfort, books and films I could return to over and over again like an old friend. A series of messages about friendship, love and compassion whose mantras stood the test of time.
Then, in 2020, things changed. Full disclosure: I’m not trans but I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community. As a consequence of that, I’ve grown up with trans friends and non-binary friends and gender fluidity. The only time I waded into the trans debate on Twitter was the most stressful and disheartening couple of days I’ve spent online.
I am aware that in literature and in art the role of the author or artist after the creation is in the world is contested. Once a book is in the hands of the reader, what part, if any, does the author play as the work becomes reinterpreted through the lens of that person’s experience? Should the author matter at all?
I’m afraid that, for me, Harry Potter is and will always be tainted by the comments that JK Rowling has made since 2020 concerning trans people. I am disappointed with a public figure with 14 million followers, many of them young people, using a platform where 280 characters (plus a few more tweets) is the limit to contribute to a debate that so quickly and forcefully turns toxic. While there are valid discussions to be had and concerns to be raised, I can’t help think that this wasn’t the way to wade in. These debates contain vast swathes of shade – they’re not black and white – and they deserve the considered attention they should be given. The trans debate is more appropriate for a PhD thesis than a tweet.
Rowling went on, in that same grenade of a thread in July 2020, to share an article called “Anonymous Letter From a Terrified Lesbian”. An article that begins, “The ‘LGBTQ’ has become an abusive parent with a wicked backhand” and goes on to describe the experience of at least two lesbians. Like anything that lumps together and generalises millions of people all over the world, the piece lacked nuance. It wasn’t an experience that I identified with personally and I can’t really see how Rowling, a white cis woman, would be able to relate either.
I find it difficult now to separate my response to these views from the work that Rowling created. I find watching the films tinged with a little bit of disappointment. I find myself questioning the lack of diversity on screen, whether that’s through gender, sexuality, race. While I’m sure it won’t bother JK Rowling that I don’t contribute financially to the Potter empire anymore, it’s a shame that something so central to my childhood now brings with it feelings of discomfort and sadness, where before it brought such joy and relief.