“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (2007)
In June 1990, Joanne Kathleen Rowling was on her way from Manchester to London by train when an idea came to her mind, which created the magical universe of The Boy Who Lived in Number 4 Private Drive. Her most successful story, published in a series of seven novels and translated in more than 80 languages, was adapted and commercialised as audiobooks, movies, games, theme park attractions, a sequel play, in-universe books and several other products – including chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Beans and butterbeer. There is no doubt that the Harry Potter brand is one of the most influential media franchises in the world.
On Saturday, the 31st of July, when the author of the series turns 56, she will most probably receive good wishes and congratulations – but also critique from her fans. Last June, she had responded on Twitter to an article on “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate”. Rowling’s tweet caused a shit storm on social media accusing her of not regarding trans women as ‘actual’ women. Other tweets by her also indicated proximity to the arguments of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) and were perceived by the queer community as ignorant, intolerant and transphobic. Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliff and many others denounced her statements and stated that transgender women are women. In an essay, Rowling later emotionally pointed out that her intention was never to discriminate against trans people. “I stand alongside the brave women and men, gay, straight and trans, who’re standing up for freedom of speech and thought […].”
However, Rowling also argued in the same essay that people should use the bathroom of the sex they were assigned at birth. “When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman — and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones — then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside.” This statement neglects that trans people are statistically more likely to experience hostility, violence and discrimination in a bathroom setting.
Words, as the initial quote indicates, have the power to heal, but the resonance on social media clearly shows that in this case, they were offensive and hurtful. One year after her controversial tweet, Rowling stated that she still receives threatening messages and comments. Recently, when talking to a good friend of mine about the Twitter scandal, he suggested detaching Rowling’s literary work from her intentions and statements when analysing and interpreting her novels – since we live in postmodern times and assume the ‘death of the author’.
If you are looking for empowering literature and media, which creates awareness for trans rights please check out the topic cluster trans rights on Lit4School.