It’s basically well-known at this point that J.K. Rowling is incredibly transphobic. So much so that the cast of the films have come out in support of trans people. Rowling has been problematic for years, but for privileged assholes like me, there was always a level of plausible deniability to it, up to and including Death of the Author.
Not so anymore. I mean… really I should have seen this years ago. It’s not the first time Rowling has outed herself as transphobic… it’s just the first time she’s publicly embraced it and doubled-down.
Now, to be fair, this is decently easy for me. The reason is because Harry Potter itself doesn’t influence my life now the way it did when I was a kid. The reason for that is… kind of embarrassing… but it’s worth talking about a little bit…
I’m sure most of you know what “shipping” is, right? For those who don’t, it’s basically a thing that happens in fandoms when fans sort of aggressively want fictional characters to end up in a romantic relationship with each other. The word “ship” comes from the word “relationship”, and it became known as “shipping”.
Now, I don’t know what the concept of “shipping” was like before Harry Potter, but that was my introduction to it. It should be noted that I started reading Harry Potter when The Sorcerer’s Stone came out; I was 11 years old. I took to Harry Potter because I felt like I grew up with Harry. I was very deep in the fandom by Prisoner of Azkaban (the best of the books and the worst of the movies), and by Goblet of Fire, I was participating in what became known as the “Shipping Wars”.
Why the Shipping Wars? Because fandom was pretty split on who Hermione should have ended up in a relationship with: Ron (the eventual “winner” of the “Wars”) or Harry. It got so that the Ships actually ended up with names. The fans who wanted Hermione to get with Ron were called the HMS Heron, and the fans who wanted Hermione to get with Harry were called the HMS Harmony.
I joined the HMS Harmony. The reason for that was what I thought I read into the interactions between Harry and Hermione in books 3, 4, and 5. I really, truly believed that Rowling was setting them up as a couple in those three books.
I’m going to skip ahead here because I could get deep into it and don’t want to, but suffice it to say, Half-Blood Prince effectively sunk the HMS Harmony.
Of course I hated that book. I genuinely thought it was terribly written. And I had reasons, too. For starters, I thought Rowling was confusing the movies with the books (like how, in Prisoner of Azkaban the book, Hermione slaps Malfoy… she doesn’t punch like in the movie; but in the Half-Blood Prince book, Harry and Hermione reminisce about how she punched Malfoy; not how she slapped him). I also thought she had drastically changed most of the characters’ personalities (Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and… most egregiously to me… Dumbledore). And finally, I just found it boring.
But we all know why I hated book 6.
Because she sank the HMS Harmony. Although no… it wasn’t just that.
She also cosigned those of us who wanted Harry and Hermione to be a couple being called “delusional”.
Immediately after the release of Half-Blood Prince, in 2005, Rowling was interviewed by the owners of the Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet, Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. A good chunk of that interview was about the Shipping Wars, and the part I’m referring to is as follows:
JKR: How did you feel about the romance?
[Melissa puts her thumbs up and grins widely while…]
ES: We were hi-fiving the whole time.
JKR: [laughs] Yes! Good. I’m so glad.
MA: We were running back and forth between rooms yelling at each other.
ES: We thought it was clearer than ever that Harry and Ginny are an item and Ron and Hermione — although we think you made it painfully obvious in the first five books —
JKR: [points to herself and whispers] So do I!
ES: What was that?
JKR: [More loudly] Well so do I! So do I!
[All laugh; Melissa doubles over, hysterical, and may have died.]
ES: Harry/Hermione shippers – delusional!
JKR: Well no, I’m not going to – Emerson, I am not going to say they’re delusional! They are still valued members of my readership! I am not going to use the word delusional. I am however, going to say — now I am trusting both of you to do the spoiler thing when you write this up —
JKR: I will say, that yes, I personally feel – well it’s going to be clear once people have read book six. I mean, that’s it. It’s done, isn’t it? We know. Yes, we do now know that it’s Ron and Hermione. I do feel that I have dropped heavy –
[All crack up]
JKR: – hints. ANVIL-sized, actually, hints, prior to this point. I certainly think even if subtle clues hadn’t been picked up by the end of “Azkaban,” that by the time we hit Krum in Goblet…
But Ron — I had a lot of fun with that in this book. I really enjoyed writing the Ron/Lavender business, and the reason that was enjoyable was Ron up to this point has been quite immature compared to the other two and he kind of needed to make himself worthy of Hermione. Now, that didn’t mean necessarily physical experience but he had to grow up emotionally and now he’s taken a big step up. Because he’s had the meaningless physical experience – let’s face it, his emotions were never deeply engaged with Lavender –
[Much laughter in which Melissa emits a “Won-Won”]
JKR: – and he’s realized that that is ultimately not what he wants, which takes him a huge emotional step forward.
ES: So he’s got a little bit more than a teaspoon, now there’s a tablespoon?
JKR: Yeah, I think. [Laughter]
MA: Watching all this, were you surprised when you first logged on and found this intense devotion to this thing that you knew was not going to happen?
JKR: Yes. Well, you see, I’m a relative newcomer to the world of shipping, because for a long time, I didn’t go on the net and look up Harry Potter. A long time. Occasionally I had to, because there were weird news stories or something that I would have to go and check, because I was supposed to have said something I hadn’t said. I had never gone and looked at fan sites, and then one day I did and oh – my – god. Five hours later or something, I get up from the computer shaking slightly [all laugh]. ‘What is going on?’ And it was during that first mammoth session that I met the shippers, and it was a most extraordinary thing. I had no idea there was this huge underworld seething beneath me.
ES: She’s putting it into a positive light!
JKR: Well I am, I am, but you know. I want to make it clear that delusional is your word and not mine! [Much laughter.]
MA: You’re making our lives a lot easier by laying it on the table –
JKR: Well I think anyone who is still shipping Harry/Hermione after this book –
ES: [whispered] Delusional!
JKR: Uh – no! But they need to go back and reread, I think.
ES: Thank you.
That hurt. And how could it not? Of course I gave Deathly Hollows a chance, and to be fair, it was a lot better than Half-Blood Prince… but I felt (and still feel) that it was way too long. You could have cut out all the bits that were effectively a tour guide to England’s best camping grounds, and it still would have worked.
And really… there was no need for that damn epilogue… holy crap that was just bad. Albus Severus Potter? Really?
After all that, and the not-as-good movies, I fell off the HP bandwagon. Part of it, over time, was genuine shame for my involvement in the Shipping Wars. Not necessarily for wanting Harry and Hermione to be a couple (I still maintain that they would have made a great couple, at least based off of how they were written in books 3 through 5), but for how I was involved in it (to the point where I actually participated in an attempt at an HMS Harmony fan rewrite of Half-Blood Prince… I’m pretty sure it no longer exists online, thankfully… although I do low-key wonder if anyone has it). Part of it was also growing disillusion with J.K. Rowling herself. I was rather blindsided with the “Dumbledore is Gay” thing because… like… that would have been awesome if it was… you know… in the books. And Rowling can’t even put that in her (almost definitely not being finished at this point) Fantastic Beasts series. It’s just… a thing she decided to say… outside of the text… because… ally?
I still joined Pottermore, was sorted into Gryffindor (yeah okay… if you say so), and even spent money on an Alivans wand. I also saw the first Fantastic Beasts in theaters. I’ve never seen the second and have no interest in seeing it or any others. And I won’t be visiting the Harry Potter world at Universal even though I did want to for a long time.
To steal the line from Melina (who’s video is below), “as much as I love Harry Potter, I love trans people more.”
(Not actually) Sorry, Rowling… you ruined your own franchise by being truly terrible. I’d say maybe you should learn something, but… you’re not going to.
For the rest of us… here’s MelinaPendulum’s video. I’m sorry that there’s no transcript. There are subtitles, but only auto-generated ones. She didn’t have a script for this one…
Andreas Avester says
I sort of liked Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. There were some things I didn’t like about the story (an editor should have cut out half of the text; by the end Harry had turned into Marty Stu). But still, that was a fun read.
The original books… Nah, didn’t like it. I was forced to read Harry Potter books at school. (My literature teacher literally forced me to read it back when it became popular among kids and I was a kid.)
I’m curious -- is your “saying goodbye”
(a) never reading the Potter books again, and looking back with shame/embarrassment/anger at the time you may feel you wasted on them, throwing away/burning all your Pottercrap and turning to some other author for solace (may I recommend Iain M. Banks?).
(b) continuing to enjoy the books you grew up with, but just not ever giving their odious author any more of yer actual money?
Or somewhere in between? I can’t empathise fully as I couldn’t give a monkey’s about Potter (too old), but if it somehow came out that Douglas Adams was a raging transphobe I’d go with option B. I would entirely understand if someone chose (a), though -- see Series 2 Episode 1 of Spaced, Tim working out his issues with George Lucas by the medium of a bonfire…
I gave up after book six as well (still haven’t read book seven). Not because of the shipping, but because, as you also said, it was kind of boring. The book was background filler and a fetch quest, with both padded out way too long. Rowling got to ‘impossible to edit’ in pretty much record time, because the books were more and more in need of decent editing as they went along.
Before book six came out Rowling made a comment that somebody was going to die (but obviously it wouldn’t be Harry). It took me about as long to figure out who it would be as it did to read that sentence, especially after the epilogue of book five telegraphed it pretty blatantly. It’s like, she’s just going down the plot point checklist now, isn’t she? The train may be rushing along, but it’s only running on the momentum from before.
Rowling had just become smug in her own supposed cleverness by that point, and it showed in the writing.
sonofrojblake @ #2:
Somewhere in between. I already do look back sort of embarrassed about my involvement in the Shipping Wars, and I don’t always like reminders of it. That experience is actually what sparked my interest in fanaticism because of how fanatic I got myself over it all, but I’m not exactly fond of my participation in total.
On the other hand, there are aspects of that time that I do appreciate. Like the non-HP-related forums on Mugglenet/The Chamber of Secrets was where I first ran into concepts like atheism, feminism, etc, so it’s not really an exaggeration to say that my time in the HP fandom put me on the road that led me to where I am today socially and politically. In fact, it was on the Chamber of Secrets forums that I first learned about Tim Minchin, and the fan forums for him, Angry Feet (now no longer online, sadly) is where I sort of “documented” my loss of faith (I put “documented” in quotes because it was really happening offline, but that forum was where I sort of talked it out).
Then again, I also went super Conservative/Libertarian/Objectivist (I genuinely thought Ayn Rand was a “great philosopher” for a time, there) before swinging Left, so…
I will be avoiding giving Rowling or anything associated with her anymore of my money, though.
jenorafeuer @ #3:
That’s a good point, actually. I think that goes hand-in-hand with confusing the movies for the books, as well.
I don’t know about “record time”, but I think you can clearly SEE the moment she reached that point simply by looking at the thickness of volumes 3 and 4 side by side. (I never finished book 4).
Potterverse~wise imagine how the Harry-Draco shippers feel .. Sigh. That was a thing for awhile & not just me right?
Was there ever any Harry-Neville shipping done?
One of my partners was seriously into Harry Potter and read and enjoyed the whole series many years, shit over a decade(!) now, ago. I was also a massive Orson Scott Card fan and actually thought he was sympathetic to queer characters -- in fact one of the first gay chaacters in fiction that I can recall reading of in one of his novels -- many decades agao when it comes to problematic books & ‘verses. No, neither OSC nor JK* will be getting any money off me ever again.
* Name deliberate.