When recent controversy revealed that J.K. Rowling was, to put it mildly, not an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, I didn’t have much personal stake in the question of whether or not to support the fandom. While I am definitely an ally, I am not a Harry Potter fan. J.K. Rowling outing herself as TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist for those unfamiliar with the lingo), while disappointing, did not shatter any of my childhood illusions, did not make a wasteland out of a beloved fandom. I was too old for peak Potter mania by a good decade, and my own children a bit too young. I do not have my Hogwart’s house listed in my Twitter bio, and while I’ve seen the movies, I’ve never read the books.
However, J.K. Rowling is hardly the only problematic figure to produce beloved content. My first experiences with the phenomena were with the works of Woody Allen and Robert Heinlein. An aspiring filmaker in my teenage years, I watched Annie Hall enough times to memorize many of the lines. Later, I learned of the abuse allegations against him, and that he’d married his stepdaughter. I still think Annie Hall is a great movie, but I won’t spend money on Allen’s films any longer either (and yes, I’m aware he was never convicted of anything, but I tend to err on the side of abuse victims personally). I loved Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land as a fourteen year old sci-fi nerd, and it was only much later, when I read Heinlein’s other work, that I realized the strange incestuous themes running through many of his books, his objectification of women. I was lucky enough never to have been a fan of Orson Scott Card, but many of my generation experienced that disillusionment as well. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s feminist take on King Arthur’s court was my mother’s favorite book at one time, until even she turned out to be a horrible person.
The point being, every generation has it’s let-downs, our idols and heroes who turn out to be rather less than what we imagined. And when our heroes let us down, we’re left with the question of what to do, not with the heroes themselves, who most agree are no longer deserving of our devotion, but with the content that they created. Does the fact that Stranger in a Strange Land came from a man with a perhaps rather sexually twisted mind change the fact that I loved it as a fourteen year old? No. I can’t go back in time and stop fourteen year old me from loving it. Does it sully the memory, at least a bit? Perhaps. As much as I enjoyed the book at fourteen, I won’t hand a copy to my own child, which is a bit sad. My father introduced Stranger to me, and it would have been nice to have something of a literary legacy to hand down to my own children, but alas, that’s not meant to be.
Some suggest that we can continue to engage with the content, independent of the creator. For the Harry Potter fandom, which has taken on something a life of its own, with thousands of fan-created works, a theme park, spin-offs, and fans who consider Hogwarts houses as accurate as Myers-Briggs personality tests, perhaps the creation has indeed surpassed the creator. The sentiment seems to be this: don’t let good memories be overtaken by the bad, and don’t let fans who are new to the fandom be exposed only to bad takes, only to hateful rhetoric. If J.K. Rowling is a TERF, then the only way for fans to get trans positive Harry Potter content is for those fans to create it themselves. If trans and ally fans abandon the fandom, the argument goes, they’ll be leaving the fandom to TERFS and rightists, and perhaps exposing young fans to harmful messages with no correction.
The argument makes a certain kind of sense, and has an added benefit in that no one has to give up their beloved childhood memories, the beloved Hogwarts universe, the beloved Harry Potter community. Just pretend J.K. Rowling didn’t invent it, pretend Harry Potter exists in a vacuum, and continued engagement with the Harry Potter world will be just fine. The problem I have, however, is that ultimately, when Harry Potter continues to thrive, J.K. Rowling continues to thrive. J.K. Rowling has become rich beyond most authors’ wildest imaginings off the back of her creation. Whether we do it deliberately or not, engaging with her intellectual property means giving her a continued platform. As long as there is a thriving Harry Potter fandom, J.K. Rowling continues to make money.
I don’t think anyone needs to burn their Harry Potter books, mind. I still have my ragged copy of Stranger in a Strange Land on a bookshelf somewhere, and I still think Annie Hall is a great movie. I believe that we can acknowledge that sometimes highly problematic people create really good stuff. It’s an uncomfortable reality, that their problematic nature does not automatically make their creations bad. What it does mean, however, is that no matter how great their art is, just as we boycott Chic-fil-A even though their chicken sandwiches are mighty tasty, we do not financially support and give a platform to people who promote hateful politics and policies. Sometimes, the harder a thing is to give up, the more meaningful the sacrifice. Ultimately, if we want a wizarding world that is LGBTQ positive, we should lend our support to original creators, trans creators and allies, who can give us that. Instead of trying to turn the intellectual property of an anti-ally into something that it isn’t, why not give that voice, that platform, to trans creators themselves?
Ultimately, we enjoy what we enjoy, and enjoyment isn’t always a matter of choice. What we do have a choice in is how we spend our money, who we support, and whose voices we lift up. It is absolutely alright to still enjoy the Harry Potter books despite J.K. Rowling’s TERFiness. It is okay to like Woody Allen’s films, to have a soft spot for Stranger in a Strange Land. What is less okay is to continue to promote those creators (well, the living ones), to contribute to their wealth, to amplify the voices of people who do not contribute to the world in a positive way. Some people might suggest a massive boycott campaign, but quietly withdrawing support may be even better. After all, the worst fate of all, for those who once courted notoriety, might be to slip quietly into obscurity, unremembered and unloved.
1 thought on “Cutting Ties: Abandoning Our Problematic Favorites”
As I was reading your blog, an example of a writer we should support rather than Rowling came to mind: Diana Wynne Jones. Her Year of the Griffin is a far more imaginative magical school story than anything by Rowling.