For Many Queer Harry Potter Fans, J.K. Rowling’s Transphobia Feels Like a Betrayal
Being a Harry Potter fan who is queer or an LGBTQ+ ally has been a challenging journey over the years, to say the least.
For many queer kids, myself included, the series was a refuge during our childhoods, providing a magical alternate reality where we could completely be ourselves. It’s not that Harry Potter is explicitly queer (though the metaphor of a child hidden away from the world in a closet is particularly on point), but the series always felt so inviting – it became a safe place for a large part of an entire generation to escape to for various reasons, queerness being one of them.
In the years since the Harry Potter books were published, various issues with their actual content have been raised, but all have been overshadowed by the overtly anti-trans viewpoints of their author, J.K. Rowling. Since 2017, Rowling has been consistently broadcasting viewpoints that are overtly harmful to trans people – and though she denies she is transphobic, her distaste for trans people is not hard to identify, as documented by Vox. Rowling uses her huge platform to post ideas that threaten the livelihoods and overall well-being of an extremely tiny, extremely vulnerable population, and she seems determined to make sure as many people as possible agree with her. (Reps for Rowling did not immediately respond to POPSUGAR’s request for comment.)
Whether or not you agree with Rowling, one thing is clear: her political beliefs have permanently changed the way many fans see her work.
“I cannot even look at anything Harry Potter related without getting a sick feeling in my stomach because of Joanne’s transphobia,” says a former Harry Potter fan named Samuel, who requested to be identified by only his first name due to safety concerns.
“I don’t understand how anyone could continue loving the series after everything she has done and has continued to do.”
Samuel is one of the many once-devoted Harry Potter fans who say their entire relationship to the series – and the people who still engage with it – has been destroyed by Rowling’s transphobia. As he explains: “Harry Potter used to be the one thing that bonded me and my family. We would go to the movie premieres together, read the books together, and just geek out over it. Another reason why her transphobia has hurt me personally, and not just because I myself am trans, is because it took away a connection between myself and my family, for I refuse to continue to support anything she made but they still continue to support anything Harry Potter related.”
Like many other fans who take issues with Rowling’s views, Samuel has expressed his opinions about the matter online, and this has led to intense transphobia and harassment from loyal Harry Potter fans. “The fandom has become a very toxic place, since many fans choose to continue giving her support financially and vocally despite her constant transphobia,” he says. “These Potterheads will attack any trans person who speaks out against her, and I know this because it has happened to me on Twitter many times.” For Samuel, any participation in the Harry Potter fandom feels like a betrayal. “I don’t understand how anyone could continue loving the series after everything she has done and has continued to do,” he says. “I’ve had her followers come to my Twitter page to misgender, harass, and threaten me with violence for speaking out against her.”
Stories like Samuel’s are common, so much so that they’ve even reached Harry Potter himself – or rather, Daniel Radcliffe. In 2017, Radcliffe became one of the first Harry Potter stars to criticize Rowling’s views, though castmates including Emma Watson and Rupert Grint would soon follow. At the time, he published an open letter on The Trevor Project that read, “Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.” He went on to directly address fans of the series: “if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life – then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred.”
Rowling’s views have irreparably fractured Harry Potter’s fan base.
Just last year, the actor shared why he decided to speak out in the first place. “The reason I felt very, very much as though I needed to say something when I did was because, particularly since finishing ‘Potter,’ I’ve met so many queer and trans kids and young people who had a huge amount of identification with Potter on that,” he told IndieWire. “And so seeing them hurt on that day I was like, I wanted them to know that not everybody in the franchise felt that way. And that was really important.”
Since Radcliffe first spoke out, Rowling has doubled down on her anti-trans rhetoric many times over. But as Radcliffe explained then, Harry Potter does occupy a rather sacred position in the lives of many, one that’s difficult to simply discard. There certainly are many fans who oppose Rowling’s transphobia while continuing to support the series in various ways, for various reasons; some say the stories are too central to their lives to relinquish, and many also make the argument that it is possible to separate the art from the artist.
As for the actual Harry Potter series, Rowling’s views don’t seem to have impacted its success too heavily. There will certainly be many more opportunities to dive into the Wizarding World, with a new series from Max – created in partnership with Rowling – on the way, joining still-thriving video games, theme parks, and much more.
Instead, her views seem to have impacted individual fans – and trans people – most directly. Rowling’s views have irreparably fractured Harry Potter’s fan base, and nearly all the fans who oppose her views say they have consequently felt some form of genuine hurt, betrayal, or grief.
Personally, as someone who has read each of the Harry Potter books around four to eight times, it’s been difficult to reconcile those stories and all the magic they gave me as a kid with their author’s opinions, which directly threaten the lives of multiple friends and loved ones. I personally haven’t revisited the stories in any form since Rowling made her transphobia the world’s business. There’s too much baggage, and I feel pain on behalf of my trans loved ones – and also on behalf of little me, who was so utterly terrified to reveal she was bisexual way back when.
Over the years, many fans have found creative ways to engage with the series’s magic while also acknowledging its creator’s bigotry.
My family was not overtly homophobic, but when I grew up, queerness was still practically unheard of in my community. Realizing I liked girls at the age of 11 was terrifying, and though I certainly never faced anywhere near the level of danger and hatred that many trans and queer people have and still do, I still remember how I’d wake up each morning, desperately hoping that I might actually just be straight.
I found refuge in books and writing, but nothing was a better escape than Harry Potter. The series was a warm, welcoming world that I could dive into whenever I needed, a world full of shapeshifting and hidden powers. It breaks my heart that younger generations won’t be able to access those worlds without contending with the layers of hate and hurt that its author has generated.
Still, there may be a way to enjoy Harry Potter as a trans person or ally. Over the years, many fans have found creative ways to engage with the series’s magic while also acknowledging its creator’s bigotry. In her paper “Transformative Readings: Harry Potter Fan Fiction, Trans/Queer Reader Response, and J. K. Rowling,” Jennifer Duggan, an associate professor of English at the University of South-Eastern Norway – says that it’s possible to interpret the text of Harry Potter itself in ways that would certainly horrify its writer. “My central thesis-one which has also been argued by other academics like Thomas Pugh and David Wallace – is that the Harry Potter novels are deeply queer,” she tells POPSUGAR. “I mean this in both senses of the term: they champion nonnormativity through the contrast of the ‘perfectly normal’ Dursleys and Harry, and they are, at their heart, a story about a boy with an ‘abnormality’ (as the Dursleys call his magic) who comes out of his cupboard under the stairs and discovers and finds and affinity for a hidden, colorful, queer world. I take this argument further to argue that the novels are easily read through a trans lens, since there is a focus in many of the books on shapeshifting, including several cross-gendered transformations.”
Fandom, she adds, can provide spaces where Harry Potter fans can explore the series’s queer undercurrents while celebrating their own sexualities. “From what I have observed, I have concluded that for the most part, the Harry Potter fandom continues to offer queer and trans fans a positive space,” she tells POPSUGAR. “The two main trends I have seen in fan works are an ‘answer hate with love’ reaction, in which fans focus on trans positivity, and so-called ‘spitefic,’ which are works that are framed as revenge on Rowling for the hurt she has caused. These works are usually trans-positive, too. That said, I fully understand why some fans feel they can no longer engage with the texts in any way.”
For those who do still continue to engage with the series, though, many find fanfiction to be a particularly potent way to reclaim the books. “In the Harry Potter fandom, gender-exploratory fantasies include extrapolating that metamorphmagi, or human shapeshifters, could easily shift between or even blend elements of genders,” Duggan writes. “Considering how potions, such as Polyjuice, could allow for gender shifting and exploration and imagining various ways in which gendered bodies could act otherwise, for example, through ‘genderswap’ or ‘genderf*ck’ fan fiction,” she continues, are just a few ways fanfiction has created spaces where queer and trans Harry Potter fans can see themselves.
Personally, I vividly remember that while I was coming to terms with my own queerness, I wrote one or two Harry/Draco (Drarry, as the ship name goes) fanfictions. Like many people searching for acceptance, fanfiction became a place where I could live in a queer narrative before I was ready to actualize it in my own life. Since those days, the world of Harry Potter fanfiction has only grown vaster, and it’s now an ecosystem all its own that offers an incredible variety of stories where fans can see themselves. As Samuel puts it: “Reading fanfictions by queer writers is also a fun way to keep living in the wizarding world for no money goes to Joanne, and you get to read actual good fiction with proper representation and inclusivity.”
Despite their issues, the Harry Potter books do have an anti-oppression message, one that wove its way into the hearts and minds of many readers, including mine. That mentality lives on in the form of people who resist Rowling’s hate while creating new and better worlds of their own – making it clear that no matter how profoundly the series’s creator tarnishes its legacy, thanks to the transformative creativity of its fans, the boy who lived can indeed live on.