In case you missed it, a few days ago J.K. Rowling shocked no one and angered everyone by demonstrating, again, that although she wrote some fantastic books that preached love, trust, community, and fighting for what’s right, she does not respect the existence of trans people.
I hate to give her transphobic message more space, but in order to talk about it, I have to get the language out there. So, here is what JKR tweeted:
If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
Did anyone ask her to affirm whether trans people are valid and real? No, they did not. But she believes that we should all know what she thinks anyway. And sadly that makes things really confusing for those of us who adore Harry Potter and who have even used it in our own struggles with the awful parts of life (including, for some, coming out as LGBTQ+). Full disclosure: I am coming at this with my perspective as a cis woman who wants the world to be a better place in which to be a trans person.
In case you aren’t sure exactly why this is transphobic, a short argument against the tweet’s logic: firstly, sex and gender are two different things. Sex is about the body and its genitalia; gender is about how you feel as a person, which, yes, is related to ever-changing, socially-constructed, gender norms.
JKR loves a strong female lead. She wants women to be able to be whoever they want to be; as she says, she wants to be able to talk about “the lived reality of women” and the oppression we are under. What she’s missing is the fact that women are oppressed not solely because of our genitalia and physical bodies (our sex); though objectification is a huge part of sexism and misogyny, of course, we are oppressed because we live in this world as women. And regardless of the genitalia a trans woman possesses, which it is not JKR’s right to know or care about, trans women live in this world as women, too.
This is all incredibly ironic coming from the lady who wrote the beloved words “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” This is Dumbledore’s response to Harry’s experience of fear at almost getting sorted into Slytherin and his choice to ask for Gryffindor instead. Over and over again JKR tells us to extend love to those who are stereotyped and to pity the closed-minded characters who think that a person’s blood, magical status, or any other kind of label (like their Hogwarts house) matters. JKR built a world in which a student’s house, which is chosen for them, is a reflection of who they definitively are on the inside. But we all have qualities of all houses. The houses are a great metaphor for gender identity, and we need real and literary worlds in which trans people have the right to pick the house that best reflects who they know themselves to be, just like Harry did.
As Harry Potter fans, we do not have to engage with J.K. Rowling in any way, and we can, and should, continue queering the text so that it serves people of all genders. There is so much there for us: the houses, Hagrid as half-giant half-human, Tonks as Metamorphmagus, and much more. But we should also scrutinize this text for the ways in which it perpetuates ideals of dealing with the unjust world around us by being exemplary rather than changing the systems that make that world unjust so that it is a safer, better place to be.
Bring on the HP criticism, bring on the fanfiction that expands this world beyond what JKR could have imagined, and bring on real-world celebration and affirmation of every single person as exactly who they are.