JK Rowling’s latest transphobic tweets have once again highlighted her exclusionary behaviour and put her in a spot. This isn’t exactly shocking because Rowling has faced ire for propagating transphobic and trans-exclusionary radical feminist opinions earlier as well. One look at the Harry Potter series can tell you how embarrassingly undiverse it is — afterthought, postscript revelations on Twitter about her characters do not count.
Declaring Dumbledore as queer and endorsing a Black Hermoine are the most prominent examples of Rowling retrospectively trying to add diversity in the otherwise white hetronormative wizarding world she first created.
The Harry Potter series has been constantly accused of queerbaiting— a marketing ploy used to lure an LGBTQ+ fan base by teasing the possibility of non-heterosexual characters, without the intention of ever developing it into an actual element of the story.
Here’s a classic instance of queerbaiting. Before Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — the play that tells the story of Harry Potter 19 years later — was even published, there was a tonne of fanfiction ‘shipping’ (when fans wish for two characters to be romantically linked) Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius with Harry Potter’s younger son Albus. When the play finally came out, the bonhomie between the duo was far more intense than the relationship between Harry and his best friend, Ron, ever was.
Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin, two characters from the series who were thought to be queer by fans, were married out of the blue and made to settle down as as a typical hetronormative family. Tonks, a Metamorphmagus — a witch who can change her appearance at will, was considered to be gender fluid. Lupin’s struggles as a werewolf were seen as deliberately framed to highlight the plight of HIV/AIDS patients. But even these prominently queer characteristics pointed out by Potter fans, weren’t enough for Rowling to properly assert and develop these traits in later books.
It’s not fair for Rowling to keep adding queer elements the Harry Potter fans root for after the books have been published in ways that suit her interest, but fail to actually bring diversity and inclusivity to her writing.
Let’s wait and watch what she does with Dumbledore and Grindelwald in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts films, where she has the opportunity to explore their sexual relationship.
Culturally tone-deaf wizard world
The wizarding world first created by Rowling is of, for and by White people. I don’t think there’s much to argue there.
The few non-White characters she does introduce in the books are underdeveloped lazy additions that highlight her prejudice.
Take for instance the Patil sisters. Remember their agonising outfits at the Yule Ball in the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — dull, unflattering lehengas, which seemed like a mockery of Indian culture. A lot of us are still and will always be unforgiving of that travesty.
Then comes Cho Chang. In a world full of fantastical names like Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, Dolores Umbridge, Nymphadora Tonks, Luna Lovegood and so on, Rowling settled on mixing two Korean surnames to portray the only visible Asian character. Rowling may as well have introduced another Karen or Susan type character instead of creating a token Asian character she clearly put no thought into.
Many defend Rowling by begging critics to judge the series according to the time period it was written in — the first book was released in 1997.
But the late 90s weren’t exactly the Victorian era. Besides, the last Harry Potter book was published as recently as 2007. Proving that time was never really the issue, Rowling was also accused of racism in her 2016 Pottermore essays about the History of Magic in North America. She was slammed for the way she wrote about ‘Native American wizards’, and was attacked for “using an ancient culture as a convenient prop”. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, her ongoing series, also lacks diversity. Casting a South Korean woman as Nagini — Voldemort’s pet snake, and her subsequent defense of the choice, served as another example of her blatant ignorance of the issue of cultural appropriation.
For a book that highlights class struggles, centres on the battle against a Fascist megalomaniac and constantly takes on prejudice and discrimination in the wizarding world , the lack-of-diversity and cultural appropriation problems are disheartening.
J.K. Rowling’s transphobic tweets don’t make me question my love for Harry Potter one bit, like Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe fears. Potterverse has been shaped as much by fan fiction as it has been by the books. So, in this case, I have no qualms separating the art from the artist. Rowling may have given us the boy who lived, but we were the ones who made him immortal.
Views are personal.