Potter vs Rowling: the real life evil behind the magical world


Carly Philpott

JK Rowling at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. in 1999. JK Rowling’s first major book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, came out in 1997 and was almost instantly a bestseller. The Harry Potter franchise went on to make Rowling billions of US dollars, selling hundreds of millions of copies of the seven books and eight movies. More recently, Rowling has come under fire for transphobic comments made on Twitter and other platforms. Rowling has often said that she believes that trans children and young adults should not be able to receive gender-confirming surgery or take hormones and uses the argument that far too many young people who do get these procedures end up “detransitioning,” or going back to their assigned gender at birth. In actuality, detransitioning rates are very low, and the argument that young people should not be allowed to transition is often used by transphobes to invalidate trans people. (Wikimedia Commons)

Carly Philpott and Bre Mennenoh

Recently, Harry Potter author JK Rowling has come under fire for transphobic comments on Twitter and other platforms. Two of our editors, both avid Harry Potter fans, sat down to have a conversation about what Rowling’s actions mean to them and the Harry Potter fan community. 

Normal text indicates News Editor Carly Philpott. Bold text indicates A&E Editor Bre Mennenoh.

Carly Philpott: I was extremely disappointed when I first read about Rowling’s transphobia. For me, it was like a revelation about my childhood that I really didn’t want. I first read Harry Potter when I was ten – it was a huge part of my growing-up, and I still revisit it nostalgically. It makes me happy. I never would have imagined that the creator of all of it was actually a horrible person.

Bre Mennenoh: Exactly. For me, I remember just thinking, there’s no way. This has to be fake. There’s no way that the person behind all these beautiful stories and images was actually some kind of transphobic monster. Growing up, so much is taken away from you with time; this was just the tip of the iceberg for me. It was a turning point in my life really. A little alarm that went off saying, alright, it’s time to let go now. And that was a really hard decision that I shouldn’t have to make.

CP: I totally agree. And I think for both of us (and correct me if I’m wrong), books and writing in general have always been important to us since we were kids, and so growing up and realizing that some of that wasn’t as innocent as it seemed was really upsetting. Even beyond that, there’s so much hate in the world now, it feels like it’s reached everywhere. So to find out that a childhood source of comfort was also created by someone who is also a source of hate was truly awful.

BM: Yeah definitely, literature has always been one of my biggest comfort subjects, even now. The part that’s so troubling is that I grew up always wanting to make something of myself. To impact the world and leave some type of beauty behind. And for a while, it was because of Rowling. The way she made her ideas, her stories, her works of art really, into a worldwide phenomenon was so inspiring to me. I wanted to be like her, to be able to one day do what she did. When you find out that your idol is this terrible person, well it makes you feel lost in a way.

CP: I mean, she’s one of the richest people in the world, and it’s because of these books. She has the power to educate herself better than almost anyone else, and she didn’t. You can tell that the opinions she’s voiced come from a place of ignorance. I realize that transphobia is not uncommon, but she attempts to masquerade as an ally, while completely invalidating so many people’s identities and lives. She talks about it in a way that suggests that she knows better, maybe, but it doesn’t matter to her. The only trans people she’s brought into these conversations are ones that agree with her, including a few trans women who she has interviewed for articles she’s written. But she’s totally unwilling to hear and understand and educate: she refuses to hear the opinions of other trans people who do not agree with her.

And perhaps that’s the worst part, because for so long her voice and her writing has been what so many people fall in love with, but now that voice is bringing hate and ignorance rather than love, peace, and comfort.

BM: I don’t know if it’s just me either, but I feel like, because she’s been given such a huge role in this type of industry, I feel like she has some kind of a responsibility as one of the most well known authors to almost cater, in a way, to her readers. And hey, look, I’m not saying that she has to change who she is for the sake of her fans at all, but I mean, the least she could do is get educated like you said. 

Fact of the matter is, she just simply doesn’t care. She knows that whatever else she puts out there, people are going to read it. Because in the end, (to her) it doesn’t matter who the hell wrote it, it matters what kind of a story is being told. And all she needs is readers. Which is almost a guarantee at this point. 

CP: The main problem I have is that she refuses to correct and educate herself. I mean, a lot of celebrities make mistakes that seem super insensitive, it’s not at all uncommon. Shawn Mendes just, the other week, misgendered Sam Smith. Smith goes by they/them pronouns and Mendes referred to them as a “he.” But what did Mendes do? He openly apologized, and Smith accepted it, and we were able to move on, all for the better.

But instead of apologizing and educating, Rowling has decided to pretend that what she’s saying isn’t the problem. She, like I said, only brings in people who agree with her. Like you said, she feels untouchable because either way she’s guaranteed to keep her platform. So it’s clear that she only cares about her money and her fame and not actually discovering how she can be better as a person. At this point, even if she were to apologize, it would barely matter. Because it’s been made clear that she doesn’t care.

BM: I love what you had said about being guaranteed a platform. Because it’s so, so true. If she had any sympathy at all for the trans community, she would apologize. But like you said, nothing that she does will really hurt her marketing in any way. This isn’t the first time that celebrities have done things like this either. Take TikTok star Trisha Paytas, she’s been in scandal after scandal after scandal, but she’s already acquired so much fame already that it’s not like she really has anything to worry about. Same thing with Rowling. She’s oblivious and she knows it. She needs a privilege check as soon as possible. 

CP: Exactly. This actually plays into elements of privilege and cancel culture that we’ve seen recently overall. Some people can be cancelled and deplatformed overnight, whereas others are completely untouchable for whatever reason. Rowling is one of those people. There’s nothing that any of us can really do to change her actions. She has to do it herself, and she’s not. And that’s the worst part about this, because this is her responsibility, and she’s not taking care of it.

BM: She’s acting like a child and setting a bad example for her readers, who are primarily younger people, and turning it into a personal problem. It’s immature and insensitive and let me just say, I have my copies of the books, I’ve seen the parks, I have the movies, so  I’m done. 

CP: Yeah, I was actually just about to talk about that. I still love the world of Harry Potter. But every time I revisit it I have to actively distance it from Rowling. Like we said before, Harry Potter was such an exceptionally important part of growing up for so many people, including us. For some, it’s damaged their views of the stories’ origins so much that it’s made it impossible to go back. Rowling brought this world to us and it’s as if she’s the one taking it away again.

It’s hard letting go, but it’s also hard reading the books. It’s hard knowing that we’ve contributed to her success in any way now. It’s hard giving her credit for this beautiful chapter in our lives. Let’s not give her that power. Let’s separate, if we can, JK Rowling from Harry Potter. Rowling’s time in the spotlight is over, and it’s time to stop idolizing her. If she can’t hold herself accountable, then we will, by taking away her ability to influence so many.