It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that you believe in equal rights and you support the trans community in spirit. That you call yourself an LGBTQIA+ ally and wear rainbows in June and march at Pride with your queer friends. If you support J.K. Rowling instead of boycotting her, all of that is performative. Because it’s easy to advocate for human rights in the face of overt injustice, against people who want to openly deny people rights. But when it’s time to really take a stand, to renounce something you like because it’s problematic, will you do it? Will you stand with your queer friends then?
J.K. Rowling has said a lot of things that were transphobic. There is no way around it at this point. The author has reiterated her points time and time again with conviction. And a few other things that made me lose faith in her long before that. Now, people coming to her defense will say she is entitled to her own personal opinion. That she is not hurting anyone with her thoughts. That she changed her perspective recently and spun her argument around women’s safety rather than trans rights. But the issue is much more complex than that. Her thoughts, per se, aren’t hurting anyone. But her words? J.K. Rowling has a terrifyingly immense fanbase. Her words are endangering trans lives.
When she tweets about her own prejudice against trans individuals, she is preaching to an echo chamber of millions of people who listen to her as if the world hangs from her keyboard. People who feel validated in their own ignorance and hatred. People who go out there and spread that message and turn it into discriminatory and violent acts.
This needs to be established. Words have consequences. Celebrities especially, who hold so much mediatic power, need to be held accountable for their actions.
I am sick of hearing people my age, people who should know better, that they have stopped supporting J.K. Rowling when they still buy her new books and go see her new movies. That is the definition of supporting an author. Unfollowing on social media is not enough to boycott somebody.
The reason why Rowling is so rich isn’t that she sold billions of books – although that certainly contributed. It’s that she gets royalties. As of 2020, her biggest source of income are the Wizarding World theme parks. She also gets a cut from every time television airs a film based on her books. A cut from every cinema or theatre ticket sold (don’t go see Cursed Child, it’ll be an actual waste of your savings). A cut from every item of Harry Potter merchandising you buy your friends for Christmas. If you truly want to show you don’t support her, then stop supporting her.
I know, I know Harry Potter was your childhood. It was my childhood too. And my teenage years. I named my dog after a Harry Potter character. I still have posters up in my childhood bedroom. Like many in my generation, I am the person I am thanks to Harry Potter. I still love the characters. I still stay up at night reading and writing fanfiction inspired by the world of Harry Potter. But I go out of my way to make sure nothing I do supports a person with transphobic views. I go out of my way to make sure more and more people know what supporting her means for certain people.
Not everyone wants to be an activist, and that’s fair. What I find truly unacceptable is people claiming ignorance. “I’m a feminist and I don’t agree with what she said about trans people, but let me enjoy Potter in peace.” It doesn’t work like that. If you’re an ally as you claim to be, you shouldn’t enjoy Harry Potter in peace. You should fight against the powerful person telling millions of people that we aren’t all equal, a powerful person claiming that some people deserve fewer rights than others. Isn’t that what Hermione and Harry would do? Isn’t that what they did do?
I’m not saying we need to collectively disown and renounce Harry Potter, throw away our memorabilia and burn the books. I’m not saying we should pretend to hate it or that we never loved it in the first place. I’m saying we should take what it taught us and use it to make the world a kinder place. And yes, paradoxical as it sounds, that includes boycotting its creator.
It’s not a moral dilemma. We can enjoy a story and disagree with the author’s political views 20+ years after she wrote the books, it’s as straightforward as that. Philosopher Roland Barthes, a pillar in literary theory, comes to our aid in this: he coined a concept called la morte de l’auteur, quite literally “the death of the author.” Barthes encourages readers to split an author from their works and to view them as two separate entities. The author has full agency over the work, but relinquishes their authority over it the moment a work of art becomes public; it stops belonging to the author and it becomes property of its users, who are free to do with it what they will. This theory is also the most strenuous defender of fanfiction and fanart in the eternal debate around transformative works. Like John Green once exemplified and paraphrased, “books belong to their readers.”
J.K. Rowling owns the rights to Harry Potter (as she should, given she’s written it), but she doesn’t own our relationship to it. And we don’t owe her anything in return. There was no blood oath sealed when we first purchased The Philosopher Stone in the 90s or 00s binding us to the book’s author. We did not vow our unquestioned allegiance. Perhaps some of us did when we were younger, overcome with romanticism. Today, we cannot forsake our critical sense in the name of that loyalty.
Keep heart, Potterheads. Harry and his friends and their adventures belong to us. We get to still love them. I do. I have supported J.K. Rowling for over a decade of my life before she started spewing nonsense, but I don’t owe her my integrity now. I don’t owe her anything else but the truth. And the truth is I am, in part, what she made me: a woman who won’t stand for injustice and will speak out against it. It’s almost ironic that it was her own characters that taught me to fight back against her.
Many people are convinced, in theory, by this argument. But in practice, they don’t see what they can contribute. J.K. Rowling is too popular to ever truly boycott, and that may be true. But we should all do our part. If views drop, if ticket sales and book sales drop, eventually, in the long run, the industry will notice. If official merchandise isn’t being sold at the same rate it used to be, there will be a decrease in production. So take those steps. Unfollow her on social media, report her problematic statements. Buy second-hand books, DVDs, merchandise. You will also do some good to the environment and maybe to someone in need. You can also consider supporting small entrepreneurs and fan creators and buying non-official merch. Better to support them than a billionaire and a huge conglomerate like Warner Bros, who certainly doesn’t need your money.
It’s a miracle Warner Bros was able to bring back the entire core cast for the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter film. Many of the actors have chosen to distance themselves and even condemned J.K. Rowling for her TERF-sounding statements. In fact, it’s safe to assume many only agreed to come back for the reunion at all because the author would be absent. This choice may look like a damnatio memoriae, like WB itself decided to exclude her from the show, but it’s actually a premeditated marketing move. By excluding her from all promotion of the reunion, they are ensuring the masses are not reminded of Rowling’s recent statements, and that they will purchase an HBO Max subscription and tune in happily with no sour feelings.
On her end, Rowling is also able to, if she chooses, play the victim, the part of the female creator who was excluded from a celebration of her own work of art. Ostracized and written out of the narrative she herself has created. Please do not be fooled by this pity-inducing move. J.K. Rowling is still very much earning royalties from the reunion. She may not be present in person, but she’s still making money out of it. Our nostalgia is once upon played upon and manipulated to enrich her.
Watching Return To Hogwarts on HBO Max still equals supporting J.K. Rowling. Watching the new Fantastic Beasts film does too. It means handing even more power to a person who spoke against trans rights.
Do you want to be on the right side of history?