“Trans women are women,” wrote Daniel Radcliffe in an unprecedented public response to a series of controversial tweets by Harry Potter author JK Rowling in recent weeks about biological sex and transgender people. “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.”
Many trans people have built parts of their identities around the characters and the universe that Rowling created with Harry Potter – a fantastical alternative to their real life ‘muggle’ world when it felt harsher and less inclusive than Harry’s.
Now, following a week of unease and shock, trans Harry Potter fans have shared with HuffPost how they feel about the author’s recent comments, with responses ranging from anger and disappointment to a sense of alienation.
It is not the first time Rowling has attracted criticism for her comments on trans issues, but this recent upset was prompted when she shared a link to an article citing “people who menstruate” in its headline that, by not specifically referring to women, implied that some trans men menstruate, too. ″‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people,” wrote Rowling above the link. “Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
Following the backlash, Rowling asserted that she “respects every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them” in a follow-up tweet. “The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense,” she wrote.
Additional tweets to her critics included: “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
The Potter fans who have spoken to HuffPost UK have all shared their names, but some were not comfortable sharing photos for publication. Trans lives are at threat – as statistics from the Human Rights Campaign show, the rate of trans murders worldwide is still shockingly disproportionate to cisgender people.
Black trans people are even more disproportionately targeted across the world. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, trans people of colour, including some who spoke to HuffPost UK, have called out Rowling’s insensitive timing.
‘I encourage JK Rowling to listen to her characters’
Teddy Lamb, 30, UK: “JK Rowling created my childhood. That’s a big statement, but it’s true. I remember the nights I queued up outside bookshops in fancy dress, I remember the plays I put on for my parents in the living room, I remember desperately waiting for my Hogwarts acceptance letter when I turned 11.
“She created a world where maybe I could fit it, a world where Hagrid said: ‘I am what I am, an’ I’m not ashamed. “Never be ashamed,” my ol’ dad used to say, “there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth botherin’ with.”’
“As far as I’m concerned, that world still exists, but JK does not. That world is owned by the readers, the fans, the millions of queer fanfic stories, the cast of The Cursed Child, and the queer friendships I made by deciding we would be Hufflepoofs.
“JK Rowling created a magical world, but morally it was rather simple, with the core message being ‘Nazi’s are Bad’, which while obviously true, isn’t exactly rocket science. In her world, you are either ‘Mudblood’ or a ‘Pureblood’ – which she [now] seems to be equating to gender, where there is no black and white.
“As a non-binary trans femme, I exist in the grey area and I encourage JK Rowling to listen to her characters and explore the grey.”
‘I’ve been a huge Harry Potter fan since grade school’
Niko, 16, US: “I’m honestly really disappointed in JK Rowling, I’ve been a huge fan of Harry Potter since I was in grade school – and I’m a transgender boy. Her actions are really disheartening to her transgender fans. I’ve always seen her as a huge role model since I’m a writer myself.
“If she believes that it is menstruation that makes a person a woman does that mean that people biologically female that no longer menstruate aren’t considered women to her? My extended family has reproductive issues and some of them don’t menstruate because of issues like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Does that make them men, then?”
“If someone is attracted to me they are attracted to me because of my personality and not what my genitals are and they should be able to see around that. Men who are only attracted to men and me are gay. End of story.”
‘I have divorced the author from the books’
Karla Beauty Marx, 24, South Africa: “As a child and young adult, Harry Potter empowered me to be myself and never accept racism, discrimination or the oppression of anyone. I, like so many other trans people, found a home at Hogwarts. Rowling is now making this home a hostile one. I refuse to have my love Harry Potter taken away.
“Harry Potter taught me about accepting myself, standing up against discrimination and resisting oppression and oppressive systems. Yet Rowling’s tweets show the opposite of this: they actively discriminate against and contribute to the oppression of trans people. As a transgender non-binary person, they have been incredibly upsetting, damaging and invalidating, not only to me but to the entire trans community.
“JK Rowling has aligned herself with Dolores Umbridge. But Minerva McGonagall, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, the Weasleys, Harry and all the characters who fought against Voldemort would stand against her.”
“I have, for a long time, divorced the author from the books. The fanbase is a huge element of why I love Harry Potter. Fans make this world one in which trans and non-binary witches and wizards would be validated and celebrated. Rowling cannot strip me of my humanity and the validity of my gender, nor can she take away a defining factor of my childhood and adult life.”
‘Please, Ms Rowling, march with us’
Alex Combs, 30s, US: “When I first heard JK Rowling had made another trans-related tweet, I didn’t want to read it. I feel very sad to see the author of the books I and many others found meaning in, using her platform to amplify anti-trans voices and agendas. I finally did read her tweets in order to write this response. In her recent statements, JK said she would march with trans people ‘if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans.’
“Then please, Ms Rowling, march with us! Trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people experience abuse and discrimination at disproportionate rates at every level of our lives. Systems that are backed by a history of anti-trans laws affect our ability to maintain employment, access health care, and to even exist in public. And we continue to be bombarded with an endless stream of legislation that will further marginalise us.
“Right now, people are marching to bring attention to anti-Black racism. Black trans people are murdered at shockingly high rates with little to no effort directed towards bringing them justice. Black trans people are disproportionately targets of state violence and incarceration, where they face the torture of solitary confinement or else suffer violent sexual abuse by guards and other inmates.
“I hope the author will take the time to reflect on the realities of how transphobia is affecting the lives of trans people she knows and loves as well as those outside of her social sphere. I, for instance, edited a Harry Potter fanzine called Trans-Affirming Magical Care, which is sold out but still available as a PDF.”
‘No one’s trying to take away anything from her’
Bella Snowden, 31, US: “I will start by saying I never really got in to the Harry Potter books, I’ve always been a visual person. But when I first saw the Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone movie trailer I couldn’t believe my little eyes. I was 11. Now I am 31, a pansexual Black non-binary trans woman who has bipolar disorder.
“Black trans women are being killed all over the world. It’s getting worse every year so I had to really think hard about living my truth. I loved Harry Potter movies so much that me and my mom would watch them on DVD. It was our mother and son bonding time. Of course, she really didn’t know it was really mother and daughter bonding.
“No one is trying to take away anything from [JK Rowling] or any other cis women. I get that you’ve lived being perceived as a girl and a women your whole life and all the sexism and danger that comes with that, but trans women are women. That shouldn’t be determined by your ability to have kids.
“We have always been here but cis people have silenced us and killed us for daring to live as freely as they do. But now we have a voice and we’re going to bring this transphobic, homophobic, sexist, classiest and racist system down and burn it to the ground and build a better and more peaceful loving world around us that’s willing to listen as well as talk.”
‘She has failed her readers’
Lark Malakai, 33, host of The Gayly Prophet: ”For me, JK Rowling’s trans antagonism isn’t just personally painful – it’s an attack on the community.
“I’m the transgender host of a queer-focused Harry Potter podcast. My co-host, Jessie, and I work so hard to create a safe space – our work isn’t just making episodes of the show, it’s helping folks find a safe way to hold on to these books that meant so much to so many of us in our formative years.
“A big part of that is figuring out ways to engage in the fandom without contributing financially to JK Rowling in any way. It also includes reading ourselves into the text through fan works, and using it as a jumping off point to connect to and support other queer and trans people.
“The worst part of JK Rowling’s most recent attack on the trans community is that it came in the midst of a global uprising in defence of Black lives. By using her platform to spread hate instead of speaking out against racism is a profound act of violence on so many levels that to say that she should be ashamed of herself is completely inadequate.
“She has failed her readers, and the only way we can hold on to the piece of our identities that belongs to Harry Potter is to claim it for ourselves, fully apart from anything to do with the author.”
‘Most of us are just trying to live normal lives’
Zoé, 27, South Africa: “In honesty I doubt I will make an active effort to read JK Rowling’s future work. If there is however a movie and my friends wish to see it I might go with them. But I don’t really see a reason to support her work anymore. With regards to other trans people supporting her, well I feel this to be a very personal matter.
“Some may wish to give her another chance, others may not. Really who am I to judge. I can’t really vouch for her being ignorant or knowledgeable. But I’m fairly sure she would have looked into this after disappointing her fans the first time.
“Most of us are just trying to live normal lives. When we are wronged simply for being ourselves it does leave a mark. I doubt I’ll continue supporting her but I am willing to forgive if she genuinely was apologetic.”