Culture on My Mind – Compassion Means More Than Magic

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Compassion Means More Than Magic
February 20, 2023

In short, despite being a long-time fan of Harry Potter, I won’t be engaging with Hogwarts Legacy or anything further associated with J.K. Rowling.

I don’t expect anything I say here to change any minds. But this is my platform and I’m using it to unpack some complicated feelings about a complicated topic. If you’re not down with that, you know where the door is.

The Harry Potter book series was well underway by the time it crossed my radar. My wife – then, my girlfriend – introduced me to it because she was (and still is) a voracious reader and had burned through the available library in mere days. When we got married, we couldn’t afford to fly to our honeymoon location in Oregon so we drove instead, and we passed the time traveling through multiple states by reading the books to one another. When she was bitten by a spider on that honeymoon and spent a couple of days sleeping and recuperating, I continued to read them to her for comfort.

The movies are among the favorites with family. We even had a movie marathon when my wife’s mother was in town one time, complete with homemade butterbeer that could make your pancreas scream for mercy.

Those memories are the core of our fandom in this franchise.

I give J.K. Rowling a lot of credit for finding a niche in the young adult market, for getting kids and adults into the magic and fantasy genre during the late ’90s and early ’00s, and for inspiring decades of related entertainment in Hollywood. But that doesn’t absolve the hurt and pain she continues to cause among communities that I care about.

Her point of contention with the transgender community seems to revolve around the myth that transgender women exist for the sole purpose of subjugating cisgender women. Let’s be clear and talk like adults on this matter: Equality and equity are not like a pie with a limited amount of slices to go around. Cis women don’t lose anything with trans women existing in their spaces. Just like the scares over immigration and racial equality over the centuries of human civilization, there’s room enough for everyone.

And the idea that men are transitioning just to gain access to women’s spaces so they can abuse women? Preposterous and ridiculous. That is a long and expensive road to travel for an abuser who could get his jollies by far easier means. The theory also lacks empirical evidence.

There is no doubt that Rowling fights for women’s rights. She is indeed a feminist. But, by her own words and deeds, excludes trans women from her purview because she doesn’t see them as “real” women, and she uses her available resources to wage that battle.

She is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, also known as a TERF, and that mentality is hurtful to people for whom I care.

Further, she fosters this mentality among her legions of fans. Transphobic Potter fans routinely attack the trans community online, including usage of Potter-themed elements in their comments. One common thread is the use of mudblood and avada kedavra in their tirades – the latter of which is a literal death threat – and makes it painfully obvious that they are identifying with the bad guys in their favorite franchise. A franchise where the main character is raised by family as something that he is not, then literally changes himself to become who he truly is inside.

It’s a bad, bad look for transphobic fans.

Another common thread is their claim that these fans will buy more merchandise, including multiple copies of the new video game, in order to put more money in Rowling’s coffers and “stick it” to the critics. Transphobes in the Wizarding World ranks leave no doubt that they hate the trans community. Outright, no question, hatred cloaked in the symbols and themes of the Harry Potter universe.

For some in the trans community, Harry Potter has become synonymous with hatred and death threats. As part of a recent video about Rowling’s history – one which you really should go watch despite the epic runtime – Jessie Gender opened the floor for fellow creator Aranock to share her personal story. In short, the Harry Potter books were the first books she ever read, but as she began to transition, she received scores of literal death threats from fans with Harry Potter icons and avatars all over their profiles. To this day, she sees Harry Potter as a literal warning flag.

We all know what constant exposure to harassment and abuse can do to people. Don’t tell me that it’s normal on the internet or that people should shrug it off. That only ignores the problem at hand and enables the oppressors. Words harm. Words kill.

Paraphrasing Jessie, oppressors harass, view topics in binary and essentialist terms, and thrive in creating antagonism. They want to silence criticism and want to sow discord in the communities that they despise. We fight them by creating dialogues inside and between communities with kindness and meaning, understanding that we are all imperfect people imperfectly fighting a system that hurts people.

We should discuss how the actions of Rowling and her defenders affect trans lives. We should discuss how the new video game’s lead designer was a GamerGate sympathizer and notably attacked activists while defending sexual harrassers. We should honestly discuss the social issues inherent in the Potterverse and what lessons content creators can learn in their own work to develop meaningful universes free of racism, sexism, cultural appropriation, antisemitism, and deliberate anti-LBGTQIA+ bias.

On my end, I care more for my friends and family than I do for the Harry Potter universe. Even if I offset the purchase of a new book or movie or house scarf with a donation to a charity, it’s still money from my hands to Rowling’s coffers. She’s happy to have the support, and one cannot fight oppressors by funding them. For future projects, there is no separating the art from the artist – a luxury that LGBTQIA+ artists are rarely afforded, by the way – because paying for the art enables the artist to keep attacking people.

The books and movies and limited memorabilia will remain on my shelves because of the family memories, but that’s where it ends.

Your mileage may vary. You do what makes you happy. But I know where my loyalty lies.

I don’t stand with hatred.


Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.


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