ROOKES WEIGHS IN ON JK ROWLING: "I THINK IT'S TIME WE TOOK HARRY BACK"
Text by Rookes
June 12th 2020
The first person to say “know your bias” to me was my mother. I was 16. She was 46 and a mature student, studying for her BA in History and English. Hanging around, procrastinating on my own GSCE coursework while she researched feminism in the gothic horror genre (yes, she was, and remains, a badass), I was learning along with her how to write essays at degree level… and what the hell the word “bias” meant.
She wanted me to understand this, because she knew it wouldn’t just affect the essays I wrote in the future but my awareness of the way I perceived the lives of others as I moved through the world. So, I - a cis, white, queer, educated, just-scraping-above-working-class woman - want to talk about Harry Potter and the trans community.
I, like many of my age, grew up with Harry Potter. As a deeply confused queer kid and perpetual outsider, I drew a tremendous amount of comfort from the Harry Potter books; and felt keenly the joys and sorrows of the misfit characters within. My father and I developed a tradition of reading them together, a tradition that even survived my years of teenage, door-slamming fury. But it wasn’t until my twenties, after I moved to London and had barely come out, that I began to meet trans people, and that was where my real education in magic began. On the strength of a Facebook post and a whim, I went - to fend off an extended period of intense loneliness - to audition for an all LGBTQ charity production of a musical and I made the cast.
Up ’til that point I had only really spent time with gay and bisexual folx, but spending time with and getting to know trans folx made something clear to me that I had always felt but rarely seen openly affirmed in my life without caveat. This truth was always humming in the background, like a low roar: that people are people are people. Deep down, we all want the same things - we are the same flesh. This was real magic. Through connecting with those trans folx, I lost what few languishing stereotypes around gender I had, because they slung them, with great finesse, out of the window. By simply being themselves, they transformed my understanding of what it was to be human and to love.
Fast forward a few years and J.K. Rowling is destroying her own legacy with a wave of online posts equating trans people with a denial of biological sex. Please note, I am yet to find a trans person who denies biological sex. If anything, they are keenly aware of the existence of biological sex.
In my opinion, the tone of these posts seem to point towards the idea that cis women are being overlooked somehow. That by being given acceptance into society, trans folx - women in particular - would be taking away from cis women the precious little ground that they had fought for, and invalidate the cis female experience. I found this idea completely boggling and very insecure, but ever since Rowling started dripping hints of her prejudice onto the internet (since 2017, it turns out*) I have felt grief and rage for the pain of my trans brothers and sisters who had previously found solace in the Harry Potter books.
While, in her latest post, Rowling claims to have read widely around the topic of trans people, she admits to only having met a few. She brings the argument back to single-sex spaces, like bathrooms, which causes me to bristle, because - as has been said many times before - it was and is never about bathrooms. And she has chosen to publicly take this stance at a time when trans women, and particularly black trans women, are at risk of extreme violence.
But the universe of Harry Potter remains, and I emotionally benefitted from the stories, like millions of children around the world - including trans kids. Rowling has torpedoed the good she might have sown into those lives. So, what do we do now? Based on Rowling’s recent behaviour (which also, based on this latest website post, appears to be more governed by PTSD symptoms** from her voluntarily communicated history of domestic violence than the research she claims to have done) and after much consideration - I have decided this: I am invoking the power of another author to bring some order to this unnecessary chaos. This power of which I speak is the Big Magic of Liz Gilbert.
Let me explain.
Big Magic is Liz Gilbert’s book about creativity - about conjuring and sustaining creativity, across a career or a lifetime - and there is one concept that stood out to me as being connected with the history of Harry Potter the moment I read it. In Big Magic, Gilbert describes how, when we are open to receiving them, ideas come to ‘visit’ and see if you will enter into creative contract with them. This is in fact an ancient idea - as Gilbert points out, it’s actually where we get the word “genius” from.
In her publicity interviews about Harry Potter, Rowling has described Harry as appearing to her “fully formed… out of nowhere (the idea) just fell from above” during a train journey in 1990. As I read Liz Gilbert’s ideas, this description from Rowling was the first thing I thought of - but its significance never really struck me ’til now. This is because Gilbert goes on to talk about how these ideas have wills of their own, and while they can appear out of nowhere, they can also be innocuously transferred between people, and choose to leave - if you do not hold up your end of the contract as the creator. She includes accounts of other artists and how this dynamic has played out - each story as unique as the artist - but the nature of the appearance or disappearance of ideas appears to be consistent.
Now, you can write this off as hokey if you like. I’m not asking you to become a ‘believer’ per se, but to sense a kind of logic taking place here around Harry Potter’s right to leave Rowling. Rowling’s actions have been damaging, but if Harry were here, IRL, I do not believe Harry Potter would be transphobic, in the same way that I do not believe he would be misogynist or racist. I believe that Harry would have something to say about the fallout of Rowling’s words (as did his excellent counterpart, Daniel Radcliffe), and about the way that Rowling is abusing her public platform, ultimately built by Harry - and violating her creative contract with Harry. And I think Harry Potter would leave.
I believe in the magic of Harry Potter and the HP universe to encourage further tolerance, understanding and courage in children and young people across orientations and gender identities. I believe these children will in turn write even better stories and not be transphobic. But, as we come in to land, I believe we should not give J.K. Rowling any more of our money, and as much as I think Harry would leave Rowling, her intellectual copyright never will.
So, at the suggestion of my brilliantly creative friend Teddy Lamb (who kindly acted as a sounding board for this piece), I would encourage you in future to buy any copies of the Harry Potter series SECOND HAND. There are so many copies in circulation now, I have seen Philosopher’s Stone in almost any charity shop I have walked into, so it shouldn’t be that tough. Don’t buy a Gryffindor scarf from Primark - KNIT ONE. Or commission a knitting friend to knit you one. Get creative, but please don’t give Rowling your money any more.
Lastly, an address to Rowling: go home, Jo. You are transphobic.