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The Harry Potter community has outgrown J.K. Rowling

Fandom is about more than just the work.

It's almost been 13 years since the release of the final mainline Harry Potter book, but the fandom is alive and well. The canon has endured thanks to the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series, the Broadway play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and countless community contributions such as fan conventions, parody musicals, and yes, possibly the worst fanfiction of all time. Harry Potter means so much to so many people. So how do we reckon with author J.K. Rowling's controversial recent tweets, which prompted outcry from trans fans?

Rowling expressed confusion on Twitter at a news article's use of the term "people who menstruate," suggesting the term be replaced with "women." This equates sex with gender, erasing trans people from the health conversations central to the article. This rightly angered Harry Potter fans, especially trans fans. Rowling doubled down on the statement, defending her choice to stand up against pretending "sex isn't real."

These are talking points used by "terfs," or trans-exclusionary radical feminists, people who believe transgender people are taking away from the feminist cause. When those who took issue with the author's recent statements called Rowling a terf, she denounced the term as "woman-hate."

This isn't the first time Rowling has espoused gender essentialist views, meaning she believes sex and gender are the same thing. In 2018, one of her mystery novels was called out by trans critic Katelyn Burns for the way it portrayed a trans woman character. Just a few months ago, in December 2019, she was criticized for defending a researcher who was fired for being anti-trans.

Rowling at the opening night of 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child'Walter McBride/WireImage/Getty Images

What does this mean for the Harry Potter community? Well, Rowling doesn't have much to do with the fandom anymore. No matter what extra bonus canon she may tweet, the books now belong to their readers.

Separating the art from the artist is impossible: despite the fact Harry Potter is a bestselling fantasy book series, many have raised concerns with the biases that leak through, and how that could reflect in the real world. For example, the portrayal of the bankers as goblins has long been criticized as anti-Semitic.

One of 'Harry Potter''s banker goblinsWarner Bros.

Others mentioned the portrayal of Cho Chang, and how even her name could be read as lazy and racist. Katie Leung, the actress who portrayed her, tweeted a thread of Black trans fundraisers in response to the uproar, in what seems to be an oblique condemnation of Rowling.

The goal doesn't have to be completely ignoring the sometimes unpleasant politics behind Harry Potter, nor does it have to be completely avoiding the series or the fandom. Instead, it's wise practice to read up on the things we love, understand how they work, and understand why people take issue with questionable choices by the author.

None of this takes away from the Harry Potter community. Some of the series' harshest critics are also its biggest fans. If you love something and know it extremely well, you're probably the most likely to recognize the author's implicit biases, consciously or not.

Find joy in Harry Potter, find community, find yourself. But it may be best to do so mindfully, appreciating for its good messages and acknowledging the bad. The Harry Potter fan community has been — and will continue to be — a force for good, regardless of what the creator says.

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