The JK Rowling of our childhood was a hero, someone who lived the true ‘rags to riches’ fantasy, bringing the world some of the most beloved literary characters with the Harry Potter series. Most of us grew up reading Harry Potter, and I know that they sparked my love of fantasy fiction that still lasts to this day; I idolised Rowling. But now, later in life, I’ve come to understand the problematic faults of the books, and the problems with Rowling herself as a person.
There’s a distinct lack of LGBT representation in the Harry Potter series. The books being first published in the 90s is not an excuse for this; the success that the books had, with them becoming the best-selling book series in history, means that Rowling surely was given some leeway in her works despite possible concerns from publishers. She had the fame and the means to include LGBT characters; no publishing house is going to drop their best-selling author just like that, and even if they did, another would have taken Rowling up for the sheer amount of books she was selling. LGBT representation is so important, especially in children’s books; it normalises it, leading to wider acceptance of the community. I know that seeing an LGBT character in a popular book series during the same time I was reading Harry Potter would have definitely had a HUGE impact on me. Representation is the key to acceptance.
Rowling has tried to make up for this lack of representation in recent years by confirming characters as LGBT long after the books were originally published; namely, her confirmation of Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, as a gay man. This revelation was lightly touched upon in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), a sequel to Rowling’s Harry Potter prequel of the same name, with the latter named character supposedly being the love of Dumbledore’s life, although the film does not tell the audience that in the slightest. Instead, Albus corrects someone, saying that he loved Grindelwald ‘more than a brother’. This implication is not explicit enough, and simply, not good enough. There’s no explicit evidence of Dumbledore being gay in the books or films, and just saying it to win brownie points with the LGBT community is not sufficient. If you’ve said that a character is LGBT, there needs to be something to show for it.
Linking to issues with LGBT representation, Rowling has also proved herself in recent years to be transphobic. She posted her support of transphobe Maya Forestater after she was fired from her job due to her refusal to acknowledge a person’s designated pronouns, and has liked numerous transphobic tweets. Stating her distaste at the firing of Forestater, Rowling implored her followers, most of which being fans of her work (some being young, impressionable fans) to stand against the sacking of someone for ‘speaking the truth’, that supposed truth being that ‘sex is real’. This kind of behaviour is disgusting; trans women are women, trans men are men, there is no ‘real sex’ about it. These transphobic comments, plus her implied support of T.E.R.Fs (trans-exclusionary feminists), just show that Rowling has little care for the LGBT community.
All the people of colour in the Harry Potter series are reduced down to secondary characters, and even then there’s only a handful of people of colour when placed against a large number of white people. Dean Thomas, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Lee Jordan are all examples of black characters in the novels, but they only play a small part in Harry’s story and are limited to a few lines each. There are only 3 named Asian characters, Parvati and Padma Patil, and Ravenclaw’s Cho Chang, a love interest of Harry’s. Some have argued that these ‘foreign’ names only further serve to ostracise the few Asian characters that there are in the books, exoticizing them. Lavender Brown, originally played by black actresses Kathleen Cauley and Jennifer Smith, was recast from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince onward, when her character developed into a speaking role. There’s a distinct lack of a voice for people of colour in the works of JK Rowling.
Rowling’s diversity rewrites are frankly exhausting and much too late to satisfy. Diversity should be implemented from the outset, not just as an afterthought. Her comments regarding the transgender community only serve to prove her outright problematic and backwards nature even further, beyond that of her work, and that she should in no way be put on a pedestal as readers like me once viewed her. A white, wealthy, privileged cisgender woman should be using the platform she has to incite positive change, not discriminate, demean and degrade communities.