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It’s time to have an honest conversation about Harry Potter

It’s time to have an honest conversation about Harry Potter

It’s time to have an honest conversation about Harry Potter
October 01
11:00 2020

I was that kid. You know, the one who strong-armed their friends into reading Harry Potter and unironically presented my Hogwarts house as a component of my identity. I have gone as Hermione Granger for Halloween, visited Universal Studios Hollywood and even purchased some of J.K. Rowling’s considerably less magical (both figuratively and literally) novels. And I think it’s time to let go of Harry Potter.

J.K. Rowling’s transphobia is so egregious it borders on parody. Most recently, she has come under fire for writing a 900-page mystery novel featuring a primary antagonist that disguises himself as a female to get closer to his victims. Not only has the trope of the creepy crossdresser been done to death by mainstream media, a la “Silence of the Lambs” (1991) and “Psycho” (1960), it is also blatantly transphobic, not so much implying as outright stating that, A. trans women are actually just men in disguise, and B. trans women pose a significant threat to “real” (cis) women, a common misconception that has been debunked by statistics time and time again.

Far scarier than this dead horse of a trope has ever been is its effect on societal perceptions of trans women. Media can and has been used to radicalize the general public, with parades of queer-coded Disney villains and sidelined characters of color impressing upon viewers the supposed inhumanity of “The Other.” Even if this is done unintentionally by one creator, the trope being used is derived from the intentional portrayal of a marginalized demographic as one-dimensional or dangerous by another. Considering the anti-trans diatribe J.K. Rowling went on earlier this year, it is probably safe to say that the transmisogynistic “subtext” of her next novel was put there deliberately.

Violence directed towards transgender people is so prevalent it could easily be considered an epidemic. At least 26 transgender and nonbinary people have been murdered just this year, most of whom were Black women, according to the Human Rights Campaign,. That Black trans women are being targeted in particular lends an especially menacing quality to J.K Rowling’s decision to denounce trans people during protests against systemic racism.

In fact, anti-trans rhetoric is rooted in racist ideas of which physical features are acceptably feminine, with dark-skinned, hairy-legged or large-nosed women being repeatedly portrayed and perceived as overly masculine or unattractive. Some of J.K. Rowling’s supporters, one of whom has known ties to white nationalist YouTubers, were videoed harassing Black Lives Matter protesters in London.

J.K. Rowling is now being referred to as a TERF, or a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which is not, in fact, a type of feminist, but someone who uses the overtly sexist narrative of women being hapless victims to push their agenda against trans women, then calls themselves a feminist to make their viewpoint more palatable. It is worth noting that this tactic has historically been used against other marginalized people who were characterized as aggressive, such as Black people, immigrants and lesbians. This particular tactic enables white, straight cisgender women to avoid confronting their own biases by attributing their own oppression to anyone other than the white, straight, cisgender men who actually victimize them on a regular basis.

Obviously, a lot of Harry Potter fans were less than pleased to discover that a woman who profited off of writing a series that denounced bigotry was, irony of all ironies, now using the power she had gained from doing so to promote bigotry. Many invoked the term “death of the author” which entails separating the author from their body of work, i.e. making jokes about how anime voice synthesizer Hatsune Miku wrote Harry Potter while continuing to consume Harry Potter-related content.

There are three main reasons why “death of the author” cannot apply to J.K. Rowling. First, she is the richest and most famous author in the world. She wields considerable influence, influence that she gained from writing Harry Potter and maintains due entirely to the continued consumption of Harry Potter by the general public. Even if people buy Harry Potter products that don’t trace back to her monetarily, them doing so lets businesses know that Harry Potter is still profitable as a franchise, and they will continue to partner with Rowling in their peddling of products she does make money off of, which people will buy.

Secondly, death of the author is really rarely applicable to any situation. You cannot separate notorious racist H.P. Lovecraft from his work, because the themes of his work directly reflect how he felt about people of color. Similarly, you cannot separate J.K. Rowling from Harry Potter because she wrote one of her female villains as a masculine woman who disguises herself to spy on children, invented a slave race who happily embraced their own enslavement, drew on antisemitic stereotypes when characterizing the goblins and fixated on blood ties even as she wrote that “it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”

You cannot prioritize love for a franchise over the lives of transgender people. At the end of the day, Harry Potter is fictional, but the harm J.K Rowling is doing is very, very real.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

About Author

Rachel Card

Rachel Card

Rachel Card is a junior majoring in public relations and minoring in sociology. She was born in Austin, Texas, and is currently quarantining there with her family and three dogs.

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