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  • Writer's pictureBrantwijn Serrah

Nostalgia, Disappointment, and JK Rowling

I stand with trans people.

So it was more than disappointing to learn this week that, after I'd been extending her the benefit of the doubt for years now, JK Rowling — formerly one of my favorite authors — evidently does not.

And perhaps it was wrong of me to ever extend the benefit of the doubt to begin with. I've never been deeply involved in fandoms, mind you. I don't hang out in forums or closely follow up on fandom news on social media. I love to see fan art and fan creations, but I admire them from my quiet corner. I guess I'm introverted that way?

Most of what I hear when it comes to series I love comes through the grapevine a little ways before it gets to me. I knew Rowling made troubling statements in the past, and lots of fans have come to the same conclusion I did, only they saw it years ago. I guess I just wanted so much to believe it was a poor choice of words, or a misunderstanding.

I've always admired Rowling. Not just as a reader who loved her world, but as an author who held her up as one of the Greats. Someone to emulate. A talent to learn from and admire. I know there have been lots of complaints about Rowling's "retcons" and "revelations" since she released the final book in the Harry Potter series, and I've generally dismissed a lot of them as harmless. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Didn't care for it, but I won't let it ruin my love of the originals. Fantastic Beasts not consistent with her previous plots? I just don't take it very seriously. Dumbledore gay? As an author I completely understand when you know something about a character, you know, even if it doesn't make it onto the pages. Wizards shit their own robes wherever they were and just magicked the mess away? Didn't really need to know that, so I'll just file it away under "things to repress", like the child orgy in It or the final episode of How I Met Your Mother.

But I can't dismiss this. This isn't about some fictional world or frustrating plot holes. These are people JK Rowling is invalidating. People with real, human hearts and very, very real struggles facing them already.

You can mess up your own fictional canon all you like. I'll ignore the messy stuff and enjoy what I enjoy. But you can't mess up on this. You can't.

Transgender individuals are who they say they are. They are valid and worthy. They deserve to be recognized as the people they are. And their existence poses NO THREAT to others.

So this is where I officially say, "enough is enough", and relinquish the last of my admiration for a writer who once, truly inspired me.

Goodbye, Jo. It's a real shame it had to turn out this way.

The more I think of it, the more I realize this maybe shouldn't have been such a surprise. I mean, I can understand how mention of characters' sexuality might not make it into the Harry Potter books. I can even understand how there isn't more talk about diversity among the human characters. There are so many other elements where Rowling explored issues of diversity, equality, prejudice, and justice, I guess I always saw it as a vibrant discussion on the topics anyway. Books have utilized symoblism and metaphor to address issues since the dawn of literacy. We saw slurs and hate speech addressed in the Potter books, as well as slavery and prejudice, and injustice aimed at those who were different. Was it worth less because it was based on magical and fantasy statuses rather than real-world issues like skin color, gender, and orientation?

Then again...

I just happened to be rereading the Harry Potter series recently, and I realized I'm a lot less comfortable with those symbolic representations than I was in my youth. Sure, we did see the hurt and anger raised when someone used the slur "Mudblood"... but you know, no one who used the term ever actually saw any consequence for it. No one ever disciplined Malfoy, or his father, who fearlessly spat it at a child. In front of other children. No one in the vicinity spoke up or told them off. The worst that ever happened was that Ron got angry and tried to hex Draco — and Ron was the one who ended up suffering. For that matter, the issue of house elves never really rose to the occasion as a symbol, either. As a young person reading the books, I saw the surface symbolism clearly: Slavery BAD! Free the House Elves! But as an adult, rereading Goblet of Fire, it occurred to me... Rowling made the house elves, as a race, joyfully subservient. Like, it wasn't just that wizards thought they were subservient. House elves like Winky worshipped their wizard masters, refused to take compensation, even shamed the one elf who dreamed of more. This was the nature Rowling gave these creatures. Haven't I read somewhere — or several somewheres — that Black slavery was once depicted the same way? Wasn't there lots of propaganda out there aimed at convincing people that Black slaves liked a life of subservient bondage? Oh, JK. I once thought you so wise. So clever, in how you depicted the fight for peace, equality, and justice. I wanted to be able to write with just as much creativity, imagination, and power to affect people everywhere.

But these days, Snape isn't a hero. He's an abuser on an unforgivable level, tormenting a child. Hermione isn't a revolutionary for house elf rights; according to the actual canon you created, she was wrong to try and free them and her actions were more upsetting to the elves than helpful. The racists and the bigots in your world never faced any true consequences; most of them survive to live a more-or-less unchanged life after their Dark Lord falls.

I used to think killing Sirius Black was the most unforgivable thing you had ever done. Ah, for the days when that was true.

I think I'll always love Harry Potter. But when it comes to Rowling herself... the rose-colored glasses are definitely off.

I stand with trans people.


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