Oh, J.K. Rowling. Have you ever known anybody make such a royal mess of an empire they’ve built up over the best part of a few decades? I certainly haven’t. Once beloved for creating a world of magic and fantasy that so many of us grew up completely immersed in, things have certainly changed. Over the last few years, the Harry Potter author has gone from worldwide beloved to exposing herself as a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). It’s been a fall from grace, unlike anything the literary world has encountered before.
It perhaps comes as no surprise that the author is intensely problematic. The Harry Potter series was treasured by myself and millions of others alike – they shaped many a childhood. As you mature, however, their faults becoming increasingly clear. A closer look at the franchise sees a myriad of uncomfortable representations or none at all. From antisemitic stereotypes in her goblins to failing to develop successfully any characters who aren’t white, to blatant queerbaiting – there’s a lot of issues right on the surface.
The author was faced with more backlash than ever in recent months – after horrifically transphobic Tweets back in June, the announcement then came that her new crime novel finds a cis male serial killer dressing as a woman to hunt and murder cis women. Of course, there was outrage at this and the damage it does to the Transgender community. Such a renowned, previously cherished author voicing her disturbingly transphobic opinions legitimises the opinions of other transphobes in day to day life. According to Stonewall, 53% of trans people aged 18 to 24 have experienced a hate crime based on their gender identity in the last 12 months. 28% of trans people in a relationship in the last year have experienced domestic abuse from a partner.
It goes without saying that the lives of transgender individuals are already threatened and difficult – is there any need to add to that? Absolutely not, but J.K. Rowling’s actions and words run the risk of doing just that.
Nevertheless, Rowling found herself with a worrying army of literary figures standing with her against the hate she faced – from Ian McEwan to Griff Rhys Jones to Frances Barber (and a harrowing other 55 people). The more names added, the more worrying it becomes – this mobilises transphobes who now feel it is okay to be outspoken about their opinions, which is, of course, a major concern. It is beyond just a controversy where an author is not who many people thought – instead, it has transcended to something much more sinister and damaging.
Thankfully, however, a group of some of the most fantastic authors of our time have banded together to respond; over 1,500 names have signed a letter that supports the validity of trans and non-binaries individuals, criticising Rowling’s stance. Orchestrated by Maureen Johnson, the letter is an outpouring of love for the LGBTQ+ community, and one that is so desperately needed.
Whilst the Harry Potter world might not feel like a safe space for non-transphobes any longer, the letter shows that there are places of acceptance elsewhere. More than 200 UK and Irish writers have signed a similar letter too – so from Patrick Ness, Jeanette Winterson and Malorie Blackman at home to Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman across the pond, there’s a wealth of support for the trans community in the literary sphere.
A letter, of course, is not a plain solution – it doesn’t rectify the actions of JK Rowling or erase them. It does, however, for book lovers, provide a new navigation for fictional worlds to get lost in outside of Hogwarts. It is a show of solidarity and recognition that is increasingly important in such a hostile environment – this letter and its signees is something of a ray of light in a discourse that feels continuously insidious. It might not make a drastic change, but it is encouraging and shows that JK Rowling’s opinions are not the majority – thank goodness.
Image Credit: NBC News