I’m a Slytherin…What Do I Do Now?

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. 

Unfortunately, Required Reading: Stay Inside Con Live Special!

We didn’t let a pandemic stop us! Thank you for Stay Inside Con for letting us hold a virtual panel in which hosts Amanda and Tori discuss the third movie in the Harry Potter cinematic pantheon: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkahban and Amanda goes on a rant about authorial intent and death of the author.

A Fan Need Not Always Be Positive

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. Norman Vincent Peale.png

We’ve talked about fandoms, criticism, cynicism and hype so today let’s wrap up the discussion with a little chat about forced positivity, totem culture and why criticism again does not negate enjoyment.

In all honesty, I thought I was finished with this topic. I got my feelings out of my system. I was done talking about how delicate modern fandom is. Oh, I was wrong. I was so so wrong. It started with a friendly little talk about Harry Potter. I was talking about the popular magical franchise with my coworkers. We’re all sorted into different houses. We have different opinions of the movies versus the books. And then I mentioned that I felt the series was still a bit tired. I brought up points that it despite what the novels do well still continue to perpetuate biblical-esque oversimplifications of good and evil. I said that it continues to shun a diverse cast to focus more on the homogenous main cast. I said that while I loved the movies and read most of the books that it still was like so many other young adults novels, slinging a storied narrative with unilaterally good and unilaterally evil characters except for Snape but we don’t talk about Snape. And after listing the valid complaints that I had, my coworker went on to say rather simply:

Well, I still like it. It sounds like you’re a hater.

Dear reader, how I clutched my pearls.

Me? A hater?

Now, I’ve always prided myself on being the type of fan that never hates something senselessly. I always give something at least 3 episodes (if it’s a tv show or anime), the first 3 chapters (in the case of manga and comic books or novels) and at least the first 30 minutes or so of a movie. I always give something a chance. I research voice actors, writers, directors, intention and all. If I’m going to comment on anything: positive or negative, I try my best to speak to the topic with some ethos.

A hater to me has always been someone who needlessly is critical to the point of being obtuse. And since I pride myself on being an informed fan hurt my ego to the core. And it brought up a more important question. Even though I said I liked this series, can I apparently have no negative opinions on it? When did liking a thing mean that is has to be perfect in every way?

In the last post I mentioned more than once that the shows I care about the most I am the most critical of. I can see the cracks in Fullmetal Alchemist even though that anime got me through one of the most difficult times in my life. I can admit that Axis Powers:Hetalia is a silly totem anime to had but it kept me and my friends close during a time when we were all so far away. I can admit that. But Harry Potter is one especially that seems almost too big to discuss. So many people have had their lives changed by a story about wizards, magic and a world that provided a home away from home for so many. Even in my darkest of hours, Hogwarts was a place that I could escape to when my own home was just as bad as the Dursleys. But just because I enjoy something, doesn’t mean that I can’t see its flaws. Unfortunately, this totem culture with Harry Potter and other media artifacts are frustrating. I love deep conversations and you can’t have a conversation when someone cannot or will not see their beloved body of work complexly. But because so many escaped with Harry Potter, coped with Harry Potter, made friends, families and memories with Harry Potter but that does not mean that it’s perfect: even if it was immensely important to you personally.

Now, here’s where I put some of my own personal flaws on the board. I admit that just because I find totem culture exhausting, that does not give me the right to be disrespectful and I’m willing to admit that if there’s a series I don’t like (looking at you, Yuri on Ice and Attack on Titan) that my opinions can be harsh, unyielding and overbearing. So, call a spade a spade, if I’m mean, I’m mean. However, if I have valid criticisms and present them well, it’s just as rude to be dismissive just because a piece of media means a lot to you.

Speaking of valid criticism, let’s talk about forced positivity. I’ve talked a few times about Internet critics and the juggernauts of fan culture and their either hyperbolic hatred of all things (Looking at you, CinemaSins and Nostalgia Chick) or their emphatic love of all things (Looking at you, Kevin Smith and Chris Hardwick). I take particular umbrage with Chris Hardwick. I’ve been a fan of his since he was the only true nerd on G4 and his particular brand of nerd comedy and at the time obscure references to Neon Genesis Evangelion and Doctor Who were welcomed to a nerd like me who ended up making similar references only to find them falling flat upon my usual familial audience. And then he became popular. Suddenly Nerdist wasn’t just a blog or a screenname: it was a brand. And now as he partners with The Walking Dead and other big studio productions, Chris Hardwick suddenly could not comment on anything negative about the shows he mentioned or reviewed for fear of alienating fans and advertisers. And while sure, plenty of things are better than ever before when it comes to movies, comics, books and games but certainly something can be not as good. Certainly, some of these properties have flaws. Nope, not if you watch The Talking Dead, a show Hardwick hosts with help from AMC. So of course, each episode of The Walking Dead is a monolithic wonder. Each one perfect, special and magical. Even the episode where it’s literally just an hour of walking in the woods. Or even a more recent movie like Suicide Squad. Anyone who loves comics, movies or comic book movies can admit that at best this movie had flaws and at worst was an acid-spitting neon death trap but if you hear from Kevin Smith (the unappointed patron saint of nerd culture) it was a damn masterpiece. I’d like to know which movie he saw. The film I saw was far from a masterpiece. I think the idea of forced positivity is actually quite interesting and many Youtubers have discussed it as well as more than one very well-written article on the subject. There is a feeling that you must if you are online, be positive. And for many of us that struggle with mental illness, faking happiness or joy for a property or product just doesn’t help. If you show me an anime while I’m not in a great head space, it’s unfair then to say that it’s my fault for just not enjoying it or not enjoying it to your level.

But I have some ideas of where totem culture and being too defensive came from. Fan culture has a history of being far from kind. While the outside world was mean to nerds, geeks and fans for years, we also became quite mean to each other. The early years of fan culture created strong ships and massive canons to guard those ships. I have lost plenty of ships, destroyed headcanons and even changed my opinions on shows by weathering the storm of early fan culture. But not every fan took that struggle as a positive. Some took those constant fan battles and bullying and it has made them defensive and afraid of criticism. I’ve heard this time and time again:

Don’t attack my ship.

It’s an admittance of weakness. It’s saying that you don’t want to engage in war. It’s saying you much rather sail the seas of fan culture without incident. You take down your canons, your masts and sail on.

But what so many of those who say “don’t attack my ship” miss out on is the ability to harden your fleet. Sure, sometimes a ship get destroyed. Canons are wrecked. Dreams are dashed upon the cold hard rocks of fandoms, true canon and battles over OTPs. I lost so many ships, Internet and forum battles and came out of that a hardened, knowledge and worldly fan. I resisted the urge to simply revel in echo chambers and I have surrounded myself with people that not only most of the time disagree with me but people who I actually share little in common with.

From that proving ground, I was able to discuss what I like effectively, criticize without cruelty and discuss without hurting others. And while I can respect that some saw a battleground of lost fan ships and decided it was best not to participate in the war, I encourage every fan to at least try and have a discussion about a series or property they like a lot. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had have been effectively fruitless. I can’t always get someone to see my side and I can’t always get someone to change my mind. That however doesn’t mean I wasn’t thankful for the conversation.

Stay kind, fandom. Stay open. Have conversations. Embrace other opinions. And most importantly, have fun.