Posted on June 18, 2020

Harry Potter Fans Reimagine Their World Without Its Creator

Julia Jacobs, New York Times, June 12, 2020

When J.K. Rowling was accused of transphobia about two years ago for “liking” a tweet that referred to transgender women as “men in dresses,” much of the Harry Potter fandom tried to give their beloved author the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it really was just an accident, a “clumsy and middle-aged moment,” as Ms. Rowling’s spokesperson said at the time.

Then people noticed that Ms. Rowling followed commentators on Twitter who described transgender women as men. In December, she made her personal views more clear when she expressed enthusiastic support for a British researcher who filed a lawsuit against her former employer, claiming that she had been discriminated against for her “gender critical” views (i.e. her stance on the fixity of one’s sex at birth).

“It felt like we were waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Melissa Anelli, a veteran leader in the Potter fandom who co-owns the Leaky Cauldron.

This week, it did.

First, Ms. Rowling took aim at an article that referred to “people who menstruate,” suggesting that it was wrong to not use “women” in a misguided attempt to include trans people. When she received negative response to this, she then published a 3,700-word essay on gender, sex, abuse and fear: “I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators.”

Across the Potter fandom — the first book was published 23 years ago, making it one of the online world’s most enduring fandoms — a conversation began. Some discussions were tense, when fans who sympathized with Ms. Rowling’s views clashed against fans who found them to be odious. Others felt that they could simply turn away from the politics of the real world and focus on what’s happening in the wizarding world.

Among the fans who vehemently reject Ms. Rowling’s views, the discussion is on how to distance or separate themselves from the author who created a fantasy world that animates their lives on a daily basis.

They listen to chapter-by-chapter podcasts, get tattoos with the Hogwarts crest or Deathly Hallows symbol, and attend Potter conferences like LeakyCon, which draws thousands of fans every year. Some have even built their careers on it.

Over the past week, some fans said that they had decided to simply walk away from the world that spans seven books, eight movies and an ever-expanding franchise. Others said that they were trying to separate the artist from the art, to remain in the fandom while denouncing someone who was once considered to be royalty.

“J.K. Rowling gave us Harry Potter; she gave us this world,” said Renae McBrian, a young adult author who volunteers for the fan site MuggleNet. “But we created the fandom, and we created the magic and community in that fandom. That is ours to keep.”


Rori Porter, a writer and digital designer who started the books about two decades ago, at age 10, had been listening to the audiobooks as a way to relax and fall asleep — until the Rowling controversy bubbled up in December. Ms. Porter, who is a transfeminine woman, which, to her experience, means she was assigned male at birth but identifies with a feminine gender, stopped listening in the middle of “Prisoner of Azkaban” and has not started again. The series no longer felt grounding and nostalgic, but stress inducing.


For Talia Franks, who is nonbinary and works with an activist group called the Harry Potter Alliance, Ms. Rowling’s comments were disturbing and demoralizing. But they said that they won’t have a problem continuing to write their fan fiction (where queer characters abound), attend Wizard Rock concerts and participate in the online Black Girls Create community, where they often discuss “Harry Potter.”

“I don’t need J.K. Rowling at all,” Mx. Franks said.

{snip} Fandom leaders are teaming up to present a unified statement condemning Ms. Rowling’s comments, said Kat Miller, MuggleNet’s creative director.

It helped boost morale when a series of Harry Potter actors spoke out to affirm transgender identities, including Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry; Emma Watson, who played Hermione; Rupert Grint, who played Ron; and Katie Leung, who played Cho. {snip}

Other Potter lovers are thinking about ways to keep delving into the series without spending money that might make its way into Ms. Rowling’s bank account.


Even if the fandom presented a united front, which of course it cannot, it’s unlikely it could “cancel” an author who created a multibillion-dollar franchise.


Each fan must make her own choices for herself then.