Tangled: An Author, Her Work, and Her Opinions

The Internet is ablaze at the moment with polarized views of author J. K. Rowling, who, over the course of the past few months has gone from nearly universally beloved to an icon of evil in the minds of many. The issue that has caused this reversal: her comments on gender transitioning, specifically of young teens and children.

At first, I was willing to give Rowling the benefit of the doubt. She maintained that she supported transgender people but was concerned about pressure to transition too young. She had other problematic statements, but overall it seemed she was well-intentioned but misinformed. If she had left it there, and backed off of the issue to educate herself further, that would have likely been enough for her to avoid further controversy.

She did not let the the topic go. Every few weeks, she would resurrect the conversation again, igniting Twitter, Facebook, and others in a fierce debate about transgender people, transitioning, etc. It quickly became clear that Rowling fell that at least some transgender people were not legitimately transgender, and were “stealing” women’s bodies.

By this point, I was getting extremely frustrated with Rowling. She kept doubling down, and she was ignoring all of the evidence that challenged her conceptions–such as evidence that gender identity is established pretty early on; that affirming that identity as soon as possible has extreme effects on reducing the rates of depression, suicide and self-harm. She didn’t seem to realize that her views were empowering those who would harm others, and that her views would lead directly to people doubting their self-worth and the resulting injurious effects.

This week, the final straw came about, when the Internet spread widely the news that the latest Cormoran Strike book, authored under Rowling’s pen name Robert Galbraith (perhaps the quickest outing of a pen name in publishing history, given her true identity was leaked before the first book was even released), featured a transgender serial killer. This news instantly recast her months of doubling down on this issue as a direct tie to the profit of the books sales. That may or may not be the case, but the optics are not encouraging.

In the wake of all this, many lists are going around of alternative fantasy series to read–the implication being that reading Harry Potter is questionable. And this is where I want to focus. Rowling, as a person and public voice, has definitely earned the ire of those would stand with the transgender community. What I take issue with, and want to explore, is whether that means tossing Harry Potter out the window.

This is not a new question–there has been many debates over how entangled an author is with the books they write. I’ve oft-wrestled with this question myself, and I don’t want to dictate what response you should take. My personal opinion is that people change and fluctuate over the course of their lives, and sometimes the fictional works they make can be better, in practice, than even the author’s theories behind such practice. The Harry Potter books are an example of a story with many excellent themes and messages; and have helped many through dark and disturbing and challenging times. That their author has revealed such ill-informed and harmful views does not invalidate, for me, the power of the texts themselves.

This is not to say that you must agree with me on this. I fully acknowledge that reading Harry Potter could be triggering as a result of all this now. What I would like to challenge all of us to consider is that we can acknowledge the validity of both responses–continuing to read Harry Potter AND walking away from Harry Potter–while remaining committed to standing against Rowling’s transphobic views.

Published by Devin Hogg

My name is Devin Hogg. I was born and raised in Carnarvon, Ontario, Canada. I moved to Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 2009 for university and lived here ever since. In my free time, I enjoy reading, watching TV and movies, going on long walks, swimming, and practicing Chen style Tai Chi. I love to write poetry and blog regularly about topics such as mental health, sci-fi/fantasy series, faith, sexuality, and politics.

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