Over the weekend, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling pissed off a whole lotta people, including her own fans and prominent groups like GLAAD, by posting some transphobic comments on Twitter. You can read them in full here, but the basics are that she was offended by an article about menstrual health in the age of COVID-19 that used inclusive terminology she felt was belittling to cis women, and went on to imply that because “sex is real,” trans people aren’t valid in their identities, i.e. trans women aren’t really women and trans men aren’t really men.
Now, Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter in the movies and who may be the only person as closely associated with the franchise as Rowling herself, has responded with an essay on the website for The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQIA youth. He notes that “Jo is unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken,” but also clearly disagrees with her rhetoric:
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. According to The Trevor Project, 78% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity. It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.
For people wanting to learn more about these issues, including the difference between sex and gender that seems to be tripping up Rowling, Radcliffe points people towards The Trevor Project’s Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth, before talking directly to the Harry Potter fans out there:
To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual; 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. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.
I think Radcliffe gets at the reason it’s so disheartening to hear Rowling engage in this kind of bigotry: the Harry Potter books are about strength in diversity, about fighting against oppression of vulnerable groups, and about the power of love to conquer all. There are studies showing that young people who read the Harry Potter books have more highly developed senses of empathy, so it’s jarring to see that Rowling herself can’t seem to summon much for trans people, especially if you’re emotionally invested in her work.
But Radcliffe is also right that we needn’t confuse the messenger for the message. J.K. Rowling may have some learning to do, but if her books mean something to you, you get to decide how her comments fit in, if at all.