I was six years old when my parents brought me to a late-night showing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I like to think it was the first “midnight showing” I had ever attended, but then again, I was also six, and my perspective on time was surely warped. I hadn’t read the series yet, so all I really understood was that there was a boy wizard and plenty of magic. I left the theater crying and convinced Harry was going to die because how could an eleven-year-old defeat his teacher AND a scary ghost-like man with a weird face? Hermione Granger was my twin flame, and Severus Snape was most certainly a bad guy. Harry Potter became a staple in my life for the next decade.
I don’t remember when I read my first Harry Potter book, but I’m guessing it was a couple of years later. By fifth grade, I had taken A.R. Tests (to the American readers: remember those??) for books one through six. I attended every movie premiere. I dressed up as Hermione for Halloween. I fell back in love with the series as a sophomore in high school because I decided to finally get around to reading the final book. I have re-read the entire series multiple times. Hot Topic was my favorite store, and my YouTube history was filled with Potter Puppet Pals and A Very Potter Musical. I’m pretty sure I still own a Death Eater temporary tattoo.
As I grew older, the invention of social media closed the gap between fans and their fandoms. Celebrities and the people we looked up to were accessible from a rectangle in our pockets. It was by way of the internet that I came across J.K. Rowling’s first controversy: her 2007 claim that Albus Dumbledore was canonically gay. By then, all of the books had been published, and there wasn’t one suggestion of Dumbledore’s sexuality in the entire series. Eleven years later, she teased the same when the Fantastic Beasts series was slated to provide more personal information on Dumbledore’s backstory. Unsurprisingly, the series has yet to touch on the subject. This made fans rightfully angry and frustrated for her attempt to appeal to the LGBTQIA+ community just for the sake of appearing to be inclusive. To this day, Dumbledore’s sexuality is never addressed in any of Rowling’s media.
But as the years progressed, fans questioned other aspects of both the Harry Potter series and The Strike series (also written by Rowling, but under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith). Theories rose regarding the Gringotts elves as representations of Rowling’s hidden anti-semitism. Readers noticed that although Hermione was meant to represent a strong, independent young woman, verbs like “shrieked,” “giggled,” and “trembled” were often used to describe her actions. An offensive and obviously racist aspect of the Harry Potter series is that the one character specifically described as Chinese is named Cho Chang. Rowling has even exploited Navajo culture by using their legends as part of a fictional essay on Indigenous American wizards for the website, Pottermore. Past the Harry Potter universe, fans who have also read The Strike series (which includes The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm) have questioned some scenes and contexts that come across as transphobic.
‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?
Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate https://t.co/cVpZxG7gaA
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
This brings me to Rowling’s most recent controversial statements: In 2020, she retweeted an article that used the term “people who menstruate” and joked that “there used to be a word for those people.” This tweet suggests that to her, that the word “woman” should exclusively mean “people who menstruate.” This ideology excludes male-to-female transgender individuals who can’t menstruate from the category of “people who menstruate” and female-to-male transgender individuals who may still menstruate and nonbinary individuals who menstruate from the category of “woman.” Needless to say, this pissed a lot of people off.
How can someone who wrote stories about acceptance and love be not so…not accepting and loving? And as Rowling rolled out her tone-deaf justifications for her opinions, she did even more damage. As a fan of Rowling’s work, I was disappointed, embarrassed, and confused. I greatly questioned if I could still support an author whose work I overall adored, but whose personal opinions I absolutely despised. If life was simply black and white, my decision would be easy. But life, overall, is gray.
I’m sure many fans struggled with the choice to continue supporting Rowling, especially those who are a part of the communities she has hurt. We can’t have predicted that someone who influenced the childhood of many Millennials would turn out to be so unappealing when given a Twitter account. Rowling can have her opinions, just like anyone else. Personally, I have decided to continue appreciating the warmth and comfort of Harry Potter while ending my monetary support for Rowling in any way I can. For example, many fans have suggested that if you need Harry Potter books or films, buy them second-hand. You’re saving money, the environment, and yourself from directly supporting Rowling.
Similarly, keeping away from licensed merchandise is probably a good idea. At twenty-six, I am definitely past the peak of my Harry Potter craze. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t reminisce on a series that provided me with so many fond memories. I hope that whatever decision other Potter fans make, they are happy and fulfilled with the time they have spent as part of the fandom. After all, those memories will be a part of you. Always.