Over the last several weeks, JK Rowling, billionaire author and creator of the Harry Potter franchise, has sparked a wave of controversy among her own fanbase. Progressive fans who had been paying attention were already aware of Rowling’s forays into transphobia (which had been carefully, though unconvincingly, spun by Rowling and her agent as accidental) but it’s now impossible to ignore after Rowling produced a manifesto that officially outed her as a voice of the so-called “gender critical” movement. Of course, there’s already a term to describe the type of person Rowling clearly is – TERF, an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.” This is a person who sees herself as a progressive due to her feminist values and beliefs, but refuses to extend those values (or indeed, basic human respect) to trans women (or indeed, trans people in general). Despite her objections to the term, Rowling fits this description perfectly, and her insistence on couching her transphobia in the language of an abuse survivor trying to protect the rights of women gives her away.
It’s been pointed out that Rowling is hardly the first popular author to disappoint her progressive fanbase with beliefs that are both hurtful to marginalized communities and clearly inaccurate. Orson Scott Card, for example, author of the Ender series, has come up a lot in these conversations. People talk about “taking back” Harry Potter from its author, or continuing to celebrate the work while downplaying Rowling herself. But Harry Potter is no ordinary series, and Rowling is no ordinary problematic creator. There’s an entire generation (of which I am very much a part) that not only grew up with Harry Potter, but used Harry Potter to help them form their own system of values and beliefs. These are people who have made their Hogwarts house and the form of their Patronus into core pieces of their identity, people who will gladly credit the Potter franchise for shaping their progressivism. And unlike Card, who has never made a secret of his deep-seated homophobia, Rowling has embraced her position as a leading light of the left, using her platform to advocate for liberal political causes and, more prominently, against conservative ones. As a result, the language of Harry Potter has entered the political lexicon of progressives, particularly in the age of Donald Trump, who has been compared to the villainous Lord Voldemort endlessly for the last four years, even by Rowling herself.
So if you’re a progressive Potter fan, the transphobia hurts. It feels like a betrayal, not only by the person who crafted a story that was formative in your youth, but by someone who you thought was a high-profile ally in the fight against bigotry and ignorance. This isn’t just something you can explain away, a creator you can pretend doesn’t exist. The author of one of the most influential works in modern history has sorted herself into House TERF, and we have to look that in the face and deal with it. This is not the time to circle the wagons and defend Harry Potter because it’s important to us. This is the time to reassess something that has become an important part of who we are, to look at it again with fresh eyes, with an adult perspective, and determine if it can continue to be part of our identities as progressives. And I’m sorry to be the one to say this, but when I go back and look at Harry Potter, I see a lot of things that make me think it’s time to let the series go.