J.K. Rowling has sold over 500 million copies of books in the Harry Potter franchise, making her one of the first authors to attain billionaire status. However, many newer J.K. Rowling fans and critics may know her better from her presence on a more colloquial writing platform: Twitter. Today, Rowling is known for her tendency to comment on her beloved series, tweeting claims about the diversity and inclusion within her fictional world. However, this past June, Rowling interrupted her message of inclusivity to focus on what has become her new favorite issue: the transgender community.
Rowling made her exclusionary view on trans people clear in her essay, “TERF Wars”, the acronym TERF meaning trans-exclusive radical feminist. Rowling wrote this essay in response to the backlash she received for critically responding to an article about menstrual equality. The article, titled “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” used trans-inclusive language regarding menstruation. Rowling took issue with this, and responded to this article saying, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” In a later Tweet, she defended the firing of Maya Forstater for making transphobic comments to co-workers, claiming that firing someone for transphobic remarks was equivalent to “forcing women out of their jobs for stating sex is real”. As word spread among Rowling’s followers of this controversial opinion, her savior image began to crumble. Rather than apologize for causing harm to a community, she dug in her heels to preserve the echo chamber of diversity.
Rowling’s 3,600-word essay claimed that including trans women in the feminist conversation was dangerous for cisgender women. She argued that letting trans women into women’s restrooms would increase the sexual harassment rate. As one might expect from a celebrity of her status, the essay created quite a ripple. For members of the LGBTQ+ community who formerly saw Rowling as an advocate for acceptance and equal rights, Rowling’s claims sparked shock and confusion. However, as Rowling’s dismayed fans unearthed and assessed her older Tweets, they began to put together a new puzzle, one that made Rowling’s sudden hostility towards the trans community not as surprising as it seemed.
These past Tweets suggest that Rowling suffers from an affliction similar to that of her franchise’s hubris-infused hero, Harry Potter. She has a hero complex, or the constant desire to forever be beloved by the people, regardless of the cause she is championing. When Rowling fell from grace due to her trans-exclusionary remarks, she hustled to her own defense, exposing the fact that she was less concerned with the community she had hurt and more with her own reputation. Rowling’s essay is the exact same tactic she has employed over the years to convince people that her series was always diverse to begin with. However, she is now employing this tactic to convince other trans-exclusionary women that she has always felt this way about the trans community and that her initial Tweet was not due to lack of education on the subject but due to careful planning and sincerity. Applying this new realization to her previous Tweets that attempted to diversify the series post-publication provides further proof of the hero complex that has served as fuel for her sudden trans-exclusionary rebuttal.
When recalling Rowling’s Twitter revision of the Harry Potter books, the most notable re-write by far is Rowling’s 2007 reveal that Dumbledore is gay. Rowling first outed the beloved wizarding school headmaster as gay at a Harry Potter event hosted at Carnegie Hall, further fleshing out the details of his love life over Twitter. The LGBTQ+ public’s initial response to this news was celebration. However, as the reveal gained notoriety, fans questioned why Rowling decided to wait until the release and commercial success of all seven of her books to introduce the presence of a queer character. Furthermore, in the books themselves, there is no implication that Dumbledore is anything other than a wise elderly white man who runs a wizarding school. Dumbledore’s love life (or personal life for that matter) is never explicitly spoken about.
It would seem that Rowling did not write Dumbledore as gay to begin with. She simply left a blank space where his sexuality might have been, waiting until the commercial and financial success of her books was established to swoop in with a queer character and secure her hero role in the eyes of the LGBTQ+ community. This is not representation, nor is it diversity. It is pandering to a prominent marginalized community for the sake of savior status. The same pattern of behavior permeates nearly every one of Rowling’s Twitter rewrites.
Her second moment of pandering noticed by fans came in 2015 with the world premiere of the Harry Potter spin-off play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The staged production gained notoriety among fans for many reasons, including the casting of a Black woman to play Hermione. This casting choice was met with some controversy, which Rowling felt she needed to be a part of. Upon the opening of the play in the West End, Rowling took to Twitter to say the following: “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione.”
This would have been a wonderful sentiment had it been backed in the series in any way. This Tweet essentially capitalizes on the unspecified nature of Hermione’s complexion to claim more diversity in her series that was not explicitly there before. This Tweet was especially in poor taste due to the casting of Emma Watson, a white actress, to play Hermione in the film adaptations of the series. Rowling had a large say in the casting decisions for the films and had she truly wanted Hermione to be a person of color she would have spoken to the casting director. Furthermore, indirect references are made to Hermione’s pale skin in the books, and no attempt is made to provide any Black representation in her physical appearance. This Tweet demonstrates much the same thing as her 2007 Dumbledore reveal: Rowling’s concern is not the actual presence of diverse characters, but rather the “points” she receives for showing interest in diversity. She showed little regard for the Black children that would have loved to see themselves reflected in the characters that so resonated with a generation.
Rowling released yet another large detail in 2015, this time revealing that Professor Lupin, a werewolf and mentor to Harry Potter, is a metaphor for people with stigmatized diseases like HIV/AIDS. Unlike previous Tweets, this was a response to a fan theory. Rowling took to Twitter to claim that she had already confirmed this theory in a prior interview, saying “I was asked whether Lupin’s treatment by others could be seen as a metaphor for (then) stigmatized conditions. I agreed that it could.” While Rowling is not necessarily in the wrong for laying claim to a fan theory, there is still a level of insensitivity here. Rowling’s use of werewolf-ism as a metaphor for HIV/AIDS reveals a lack of education on the disease itself and the history behind it.
As Lupin opens up about his werewolf status to Harry in the fifth book of the series, he expresses his occasional desire to hurt and infect other people while in his werewolf state. If the metaphor of Lupin as an AIDS patient is assumed, it insinuates that Rowling views HIV/AIDS patients as helpless victims not only of illness but of some sort of desire to infect others. Reading or listening to personal accounts from HIV/AIDS victims will tell you that this is nowhere near the truth, and quite cruel to imply. This Tweet reveals yet another example of Rowling failing to understand the concept of thoughtful representation in her literature and instead using marginalized groups such as HIV/AIDS patients as buzzwords to enhance her image of “wokeness.”
So, how do these rewrites foreshadow Rowling’s 3,600-word essay on the trans community? They demonstrate that Rowling is unwilling to take back her statements about the trans community because she does not understand the concept of going back on her views. This stubbornness has led her to resort to claiming that her books were always full of diverse representation when they simply are not in order to save herself from criticism. Upon receiving criticism for her insensitive remarks about trans inclusive language, she was unable to handle the holes that her fans had begun poking in her diversity rewrites. So, she jumped to defend herself, backpedaling on years of Twitter rewrites meant to make her look like a champion of diversity in the process. Rowling’s 3,600-word essay looks very different from these Twitter rewrites upon first glance. However, they are similar in that they are all desperate attempts at maintaining hero status at the expense of a marginalized community.
Beautiful work and researched well.