Letting go of your heroes — Being trans and putting JK Rowling out to pasture
I missed the Harry Potter books by around four or five years, I was just that side of too old to really get into them. My exposure came through the films, memes, and general social phenomenon that exploded in the 00s. I have an affinity for Hufflepuff, wrote some riffs on the HP themes, and just enjoyed engaging with the universe. The lack of queer characters and absence of nuanced people of colour did raise an eyebrow, but HP just was. Then JK Rowling started walking down her path towards alienation, posting tweets that stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider my whole approach to both her and her works. Now, at the tail end of 2020, I think it is fair that my fair-weather relationship with the Potterverse is over, and unless she issues an apology and does a huge about turn, I am not remotely interested in engaging with HP again.
I have plenty of friends who are far more into HP than I am, and some are going the extra mile and getting HP tattoos removed. I completely support them, and their complex relationship with the Potterverse is their own Gordian knot to untangle. All our relationships with our adolescent pop cultures is complex, in part because it was a thing when we needed it to have meaning, and at the same time it is in some part tied to their creator’s identities and beliefs. There has been a ton written over the last two years about JK Rowling and her approach to trans issues, and this question of divorcing the creator from her creation has been at the forefront. For me, and many of my acquaintances, we have simply not been able to justify the mental energy required to walk through that process, and we have set HP to one side, possibly for good.
Other creators have had similar downfalls. Michael Jackson, R Kelley, Rolf Harris, Orson Scott Card, and Kevin Spacey now have complex legacies that we all must deal with. Personally, I stopped listening to R Kelley back when the first allegations emerged, and while I did enjoy his music, all I can see are his actions. Each of us has to face up to these moments, making decisions with personal icons and deciding if we can continue enjoying and supporting their work. Virtually every public figure has a moment where they fall from grace, and while we all enjoy a comeback story, some downfalls are simply too abhorrent to justify enjoying their work again.
My own trans identity is wrapped up in my issues with JK Rowling, while my womanhood is at the front of my issues with R Kelley. No-one is forcing me to act towards them in a certain way, and while some people may call me out for being too ‘woke’, I disagree. Yes, I am critically aware of the issues at hand, and I know full well that if I put a microscope to any person I can find fault enough not to like their creative output; however, what JK Rowling in particular is doing harms a swathe of underprivileged and vulnerable adolescents who used her work to find their place in the world. Her creations are not just another universe or saga, they are the universe in which many trans and queer kids found their escape. They used the Potterverse to find meaning and identity, and much like Star Wars and Marvel HP is foundational to their way of seeing their personal struggles. It is this repudiation of what her work seems to represent that is the hardest for so many people.
As we grow into adulthood, we invariably leave our teenage heroes behind, and much like in Toy Story that process leaves fond memories and halcyon days. Our adolescent culture colours the rest of our lives, tethering us to archetypes and ideas that we dwell on and return to as comfort food. This gets endlessly mined by the media, hence the 80s and 90s revival currently going on, but the bigger picture is that we find warmth and security in those memories. By being confronted with letting go of a cherished part of our identities we relinquish that halcyon comfort blanket, which in turn means a big part of our core creative identity is left void.
Yes, I know I am being slightly melodramatic, but this is the impact that this is causing for a lot of Potter fans. There are plenty of other fandoms out there for us to get behind, and invariably some of those will be brought down by creator ill behaviour. Fandom is be intensely personal and something we share with a wide body of others, which in turn means that as we either voluntarily let go or decided to completely cut the cord we have people we can grieve and rage with. We sacrifice our golden calves together, roasting them till there is nothing left.
In the end, as we adult and life comes crashing in through the front door, these fan moments both define our enjoyment and perception of our childhoods. My identity has certainly played a big role in my letting go of the Potterverse, but so has my solidarity to stand by other members of the trans community who are dealing with it in their own way. Each of us chooses to act in what is best for us, and for me my HP cow is well and truly in the long grass for good.