JKR, TERFs, and Death of the Author

By Sylvia Chan
Published on February 20th, 2021

The author of the renowned Harry Potter series, Joanne Rowling, has recently faced criticism over the content of her Twitter feed, where she retweets posts that demonize the LGBTQ community Her platform of 14.2M Twitter followers is largely a result of the popularity of her books; is it still possible to consume her content and to separate the art from the artist?

JK Rowling is an author (formerly) of great renown who rose to popularity as the author of the Harry Potter series, which remains as one of the most prolific and popular book series for children and young adults to this day, despite other series in the same genre of higher quality whose authors aren’t TERFs.

The Harry Potter series have impacted a wide audience, who show their devotion through wading through the hellscape of Tumblr, from posting fan theories and fanart, writing fanfiction pieces of quantity and length that far rival the original series, to participating in cosplay, and many more. In essence, much like any other ‘fandom’, the Harry Potter fandom is one of fanatic devotion.

However, ever since her success, Rowling has revealed herself to be nothing short of monstrous, and not the omni-benevolent Creator who breathed life into the magical Harry Potter universe. She has used her platform - a twitter account with millions of followers - not to spread love (one of the major themes in Harry Potter, as his Power that the Dark Lord Possess Not is but his capacity for love), but to incite hatred and bigotry against transgender women. Rowling ascribes to an ideology that its supporters call “Gender critical” - in an attempt to seem level headed and capable of rational thought, rather than simply transphobic. Most people call this “TERFism - “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists”.

The general idea behind TERF ideology is that trans women are men who dress up as women to infiltrate their spaces, which is why TERFs frame themselves as ‘valiant warriors rallying against misogyny and deviant men’. Evidently, the very basis of their ideology is fundamentally flawed, because the rate of crimes committed by transgender women compared with the rate of crimes committed against transgender women is empirically, much higher. To quote Natalie Wynn, a transgender youtuber who delves into social issues through video essays, “the queer quest is to survive”.

While Rowling has not, to anyone’s knowledge, actively attacked transgender women for the crime of existing, her ideology and her vocal support of her inherently transphobic agenda on a massive platform has, and continues to contribute to the perpetuation of transphobia - this includes not only micro-aggressions but hate crimes, assault, and murder. At this point, it is undeniably that Rowling has blood on her hands - the question now becomes what must be done, for Harry Potter is something that many of us hold dear to our hearts, yet Rowling is someone we must and shall condemn. The answer to this, some would have us believe, is ‘death of the author’.

Death of the author is a concept, not referring to the physical termination of an author’s life, as appealing as that may seem to some, but a literary approach to a text that ignores the author’s intent and social context that is relevant to the text. Some argue that it allows for a reading of the text and the text alone with no external influences, which creates a unique opportunity for the text to be judged based solely upon its merits. However, death of the author is not applicable to Rowling, nor is it the righteous course of action. Death of the author, in this case, is simply an excuse to continue to knowingly consume problematic content produced by a problematic creator and to relieve our moral consciences of guilt. Death of the author cannot be applicable to a work where the author’s intent and influence is so deeply integral to its very existence - Rowling has, on numerous occasions, interfered in the canon of the Harry Potter series to appear more inclusive and diverse than she had originally intended. For example, she attempted to claim Hermione was always meant to be black, when there is no basis for that claim in the original text. It is also possible to see Rowling’s TERF influences in the text itself (although one may never know for certain) - Rita Skeeter, a reporter who fabricates news and spies on children, is coded to be reminiscent of the imagined enemy, a man who dresses up as a woman to spy on them for pleasure. Her hands are described as “large” and “mannish”; her hair “contrasted oddly with her heavy-jawed face”.

Separating Rowling from the text then becomes a Herculean task, as she has so irrevocably woven herself and her ideology into the very fabric of the Harry Potter series, and so death of the author becomes incredibly difficult. In addition, there is the largely intuitive argument - consuming her content is essentially directly pouring money into her pockets. Even remaining in the Harry Potter fandom, while not consuming content, is still problematic for the very fact that the fandom exists is what grants her a platform. While it is undoubtedly difficult, and likely even painful for us to part ways with a beloved universe, we must not stay with it until the very end, nor must we love it always.

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