The author of Harry Potter is a TERF. A TERF is a trans exclusionary radical feminist. She denies the existence of trans women. She thinks trans women are just men in dresses that wish to do harm to cisgender women. She thinks that trans men are lost sisters. She is an active threat to trans people across the UK and the world.
She is also the creator of something I hold close to my heart. Closer than my religion on the best of days.
There have been murmurs about what to do with Harry Potter for at least a decade. There had always been rumblings that Auntie Jo Rowling had some unsavory thoughts about trans people. And for the most part, the fandom was content to just remove her from the fandom. IHarry Potter is a phenomena and was always more than the author. By the 2010s when these conversations were brewing, there was fanfic, entire AUs, fan art, roleplays and more that were in places better done than the original work itself. Knowing what Hogwarts House you were in was needed and entire friendships and relationships were made and broken over House placement. Entire personalities were based on House placement. There was merch, cosplay, and midnight theater showings.
And all in the background was a conversation about “Death of the Author”. A conversation I was happy to indulge in. It was the easiest path to take that meant I could distance myself from Rowling’s inflammatory nonsense and still enjoy the one source of remaining serotonin in my life.
I can’t ethically do that anymore.
Hate crimes against trans people have risen exponentially in the UK. Hate crimes and anti-trans litigation are also on the rise in the US. All of this can be linked to Rowling’s very approachable form of anti-trans hate. She brings up “valid points” about how inclusionary language is harmful. That she’s just a good feminist for not trusting men in women’s spaces. That she’s a victim of past sexual abuse and that she’s “rightfully worried” about men parading around as women like wolves in sheep’s clothing. Those are all points that if you’ve never met a trans person before all seem like valid concerns to have. It creates a simple pipeline from concern to bigotry.
Canceling Rowling in theory is easy but not supporting her financially has been hard. On one end, there were folks who immediately destroyed their books and merch, vowed to never give her another cent, had tattoos removed and said they’d never show the Wizarding World to their children in an effort to stop hate.
There were the middle ground folks, which for the most part included me, that said they would provide no new financial support but found too much meaning in the franchise to entirely cut it off. For many, Hogwarts was a home away from home that kept those with mental illness, trauma and addiction safe from their own less than savory realities. Harry Potter was most importantly about community and leaving that behind…putting up our wands and cloaks…that felt too hard to do.
There were others that felt that there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism and took immense comfort in knowing that Warner Brothers had cut off some of her profits from the Fantastic Beasts franchise and the upcoming Harry Potter video game that everyone thinks is fantastic. I understand where these folks were coming from. For every dozen of us willing to pack it in, there were others that had no concerns about Rowling’s rhetoric and harm and would still consume this product anyways.
Then the slippery slope came in: do you denounce everyone who agreed with her? Ray Fienes was one of the hardest (especially considering how brilliant I thought he was in The King’s Man) and Robbie Coltrane (who passed away in 2022) also sided with Rowling and he was the most comforting and accepting presence anyone could ask for. The main case almost unilaterally disagrees with Rowling. Danield, Emma, Rupert, Tom…all of them have openly come out to say they disagree with her views but you can’t deny they still profit off of their work decades ago.
I was willing to stay in the middle lane until visiting The Wizarding World at Universal Japan. I don’t want to talk about how much money I spent but I felt alive. I felt like I was at home. Like I had finally gotten my Hogwarts letter at 32 and I could run around with a wand, casting spells with wands my friends and I picked based on our personalities. I felt powerful going through the motions of spells and getting each one correct much to my friends’ amazement. I felt alive.
And then the guilt set in.
I had promised to remain in the middle path, not giving Jo Rowling anymore money in exchange for blissful ignorance about the active harm she’s doing.
I am a Slytherin. I’m proud of my house despite its fascist implications. I have always prided myself on my cunning, ambition and charm.
And now, here I am. I am surrounded by Slytherin merch that has defined me for over a decade. I am unsure of what to do or how to feel. I obviously despise Jo Rowling and her rhetoric. I stand firmly with my trans brothers and sisters and those that are somewhere in between. I am horrified by the rise in anti-trans litigation and sickened by the increase in violence against trans people across the world.
But I don’t have a straightforward answer as to what to do with my merch. For now, I am phasing out of displaying it publicly. I won’t be part of something that is clearly anti-trans. But I also am incredibly sympathetic to those that still associate heavily with Harry Potter and their Hogwarts House.
For now, I won’t be creating a bonfire of all my Slytherin merch. But my relationship to all the money I have spent supporting a TERF has certainly changed.