Reconciling the Loss of a Role Model


J.K. Rowling has made headlines for her transphobic comments throughout the past year. (Courtesy of Twitter)

J.K. Rowling was once a role model for an entire generation of young readers who grew up devoted to her beloved fantasy series, “Harry Potter.” In 2020, J.K. Rowling’s name bears a complicated reality that even the most dedicated “Potter” fans struggle to come to terms with. 

On June 10, Rowling released an essay on her website entitled “J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking Out on Sex and Gender Issues.” In Rowling’s eyes, the essay was a defense of her history of comments on transgender-related issues. The essay discusses the first time Rowling’s beliefs about sex and gender made headlines: In December of 2019, Rowling tweeted in support of Maya Forstater, a researcher who was fired after tweeting that transgender individuals cannot change their biological sex, no matter how they identify. Rowling reiterated her support and questioned the notion that the tweets were intended to be transphobic. 

Rowling continues in her essay in defense of her beliefs regarding biological sex. While she assures readers that she knows and loves transgender individuals personally, it is apparent from her words that she does not truly support any of them. In one section, Rowling writes that she feels that in the 1980s, she would have considered transitioning herself. She explains that this would be a way to escape the problems brought upon her due to sexism and misogyny, writing that “the allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge.” 

What is perhaps on display most in this essay is Rowling’s ignorance. She remains self-involved, seeing the issue only through her own eyes. In the name of feminism, Rowling takes away the dignity of the struggles the transgender community faces. By believing that transitioning would have alleviated problems in her life, Rowling is ignoring the staggering statistics about the reality of being transgender in the United States: an epidemic of anti-transgender violence, elevated rates of poverty and frequent incidences of discrimination

Though Rowling attempts to maintain that she supports transgender individuals, she continues to show the emptiness of her words through her actions. Rowling recently tweeted (and later pinned on her profile) a photo of herself in a t-shirt that reads, “This witch doesn’t burn,” and linked the shop where she purchased the shirt, the Wild Womyn Workshop. If any of Rowling’s 14.2 million followers decided to click the attached link, they would find several items for sale that directly disrespect the transgender community, such as pins reading “f— your pronouns,” “transwomen are men” and “don’t call me ‘cis.’” 

Rowling’s actions consistently betray any sense of tolerance or acceptance that she has attempted to project. In the latest update, Rowling made headlines yet again as the plot of the newest addition to her “Cormoran Strike” mystery series, titled “Troubled Blood,” would center around a cisgender male villain who dresses up as a woman to lure in, and eventually kill, women. 

Given Rowling’s history of transphobic comments, this book exemplifies her desire to continue this fight against transgender individuals. With “Troubled Blood,” Rowling is playing on harmful (and profoundly inaccurate) stereotypes of cross-dressing serial killers, which has been promoted in the past in works such as “Silence of the Lambs.” She is proving her driving desire to maintain her narrative as an unwanted hero for women while acting as a villain for an entire community.  

As the spokesperson for Mermaids, a U.K. charity for transgender children and their families, explained, “This is a long-standing and somewhat tired trope, responsible for the demonization of a small group of people, simply hoping to live their lives with dignity.” 

Rowling’s approach to diversity, especially in writing, has missed the mark for the most part. It was an approach marked by commentary long after publication to assure readers that the intention of diverse representation was there. It is what some call a “red pen in the margins” approach Rowling only made these concessions after being criticized for lack of diversity. Of course, Dumbledore was gay the whole time, despite it never being referenced in the books and the subject avoided in the “Fantastic Beasts” spin-off films. And, yes, Hermione was always intended to be Black (just ignore the descriptions of Hermione as “white” in the books). 

Any attempts to add diversity to a predominantly white, heterosexual cast of characters is a welcome effort but Rowling continues to portray herself as a hero in a battle she did not have the guts to fight the first time. 

While Rowling created a world that so many of us want to continue to call home, this can serve as an important lesson. Perhaps we will never be able to look at the series the same way, and that is okay. But “Harry Potter” is much more than a book series. It has shaped the lives of a generation that grew up on midnight book releases, sorting hat quizzes and endless fan fiction. Those experiences should not be lost in the disappointment over Rowling’s character. “Harry Potter” is a magic that Rowling is not single-handedly responsible for. It was the product of a community brought together by a shared interest but became so much more.

“Potter” actors, from “Fantastic Beasts” star Eddie Redmayne to Harry Potter himself Daniel Radcliffe, have come out in condemnation of Rowling’s comments. “Potter” fans have come up with innovative ideas balance their love for the franchise and their disapproval of Rowling, such fans donating to transgender charities whenever they read the books. 

J.K. Rowling’s willingness to let her beliefs on gender expression and sexuality take precedence over her writing will affect her legacy in the long run. Most “Potter” fans of our generation will think twice about sharing the books with their children, and if they do, they will likely try to leave Rowling out of the excitement. Whether creations can truly be separated from their creators is an enduring question that has no simple answer. But let this serve as an important reminder that the age-old saying remains true: you should never meet your heroes. 


Kelly Christ, FCRH ’21, is an English and psychology major from Long Island, N.Y.