Can you separate the author from the work?

In early June of 2020, JK Rowling published her now infamous tweets on transgender individuals, which are riddled with inaccurate information that gender and sexuality scholars could easily disprove and are incredibly harmful to the transgender population. I’m not here to disprove everything harmful JKR said- that’s already been done. I recommend you check out Violence Against Queer People and Normal Life in order to hear from scholars and academics who have researched violence against transgender people and can disprove JKR’s statements about bathrooms and transitioning. For the sake of this article, my big question is: can you separate the author from the work?

Image by Manuel Schäfer from Pixabay 

When JKR came out as transphobic, I was primed and ready to distance myself from her and her work. At the beginning of 2020 I decided to reread the Harry Potter series for the first time in years. I had just finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and I was feeling underwhelmed, to say the least. For context, I was the biggest Harry Potter fan as a child. I reread the books so much and so often that my hardback editions were falling apart- literally, pages fell out and binding just fell apart. I loved the movies, all I wanted was Harry Potter march, and I read HP fan fiction on Quibblo. I loved the books and I couldn’t find one thing wrong with them.

But as a 23 year old woman, I found the books had lost their luster. The writing was not the incredible writing I remember it to be, and at times it was so distracting I wanted to stop entirely. The story wasn’t as fast-paced and exciting as I remembered, and I couldn’t really find myself relating to the characters. The excessive use of “er” in the fourth book made me almost quit altogether. I didn’t like Harry, which surprised me. The house elf plot, and Ron’s and Harry’s feelings towards them, was off putting. So when I read everything JKR had to say, I was ready to be done.

I stopped my reread and decided to not support JKR anymore. Something I’ve noticed that she feels very proud of is that she already has everyone’s money- and yes, she does. I’ve already purchased books, movies, merchandise, and more. If you are looking to not support JKR anymore, don’t let this discourage you. What matters is what you do going forward. Donate to support charities and organizations that provide resources and support for transgender peoples.

What matters is what you do going forward.

So, can you separate author from work? In my opinion, no. But because of the massive cultural impact the Harry Potter series had, I think people are reluctant to fully distance themselves from Harry Potter, even if they know they should. Harry Potter is nostalgic and influenced people during their formative years. Harry Potter is an identity now, and influencers can make livings off of being a fan and collector of Harry Potter items. Take The Bakeey, a YouTube channel with over 200K subscribers, whose most popular videos are all Harry Potter themed and vary from taste tests to challenges/games. Sophie, the creator behind The Bakeey, has a bedroom that is entirely Harry Potter themed, and many videos on her channel are dedicated to redecorating her room and acquiring new Harry Potter merchandise. The Potter Collector, run by Peter Kenneth, has over 300K subscribers, and posts videos showing off a massive Harry Potter book collection and unboxing Harry Potter merchandise. While these are extreme examples of Harry Potter fans who have used their love of a series to gather their own fans, it is clear that Harry Potter has become an identity. For people like Sophie and Peter, and so many others, I’m sure it would feel impossible and painful to have to distance yourself from something that has become a part of your personality.

That’s why some people make the argument that yes, you can separate author from work. Despite being owned and created by JKR, Harry Potter has morphed into something that is completely out of JKR’s control. Characters are claimed and reimagined by fans. Hermione is frequently drawn as a Black woman, and fan fiction is written that reimagines characters as LGBT+. There are LGBT+ fans of the work who say Harry Potter helped them through hard times and is incredibly meaningful to them. On the other end of the spectrum, there are LGBT+ people who say seeing Harry Potter related things is triggering- like seeing a Harry Potter house listed in someone’s Instagram bio.

Some people say no, you absolutely cannot separate the work from the author. Books are incredibly powerful. We carry stories, characters, and lessons with us long after we finish reading. We derive new messages and create our own meaning from books, even if it’s not what the author wanted or intended. Books are a part of us, and because of this I think the no separation argument scares people. For people that feel like they absolutely want nothing to do with Harry Potter or JKR ever again, I applaud you. If you feel like you can appreciate one and not the other, or support one and not the other, then okay. There’s no right answer, and the situation isn’t black and white. This is a time for reflection, and figuring out what feels right and how our actions reflect our beliefs.

Here’s where I stand. I know I’ll never buy another book from JKR. I know I don’t want to buy any more official merchandise or see any movies that she’s involved in. I know I’ll probably never read Harry Potter again, but I’ll still watch the movies because I already own them. I probably won’t post anything related to Harry Potter on my Instagram page anymore. I also know that it’s always been my dream to visit Harry Potter world, and despite everything I have a hard time letting go of that dream, but I’m okay if I never go now. One way I’ve thought about justifying going is making a donation to an organization like The Trevor Project of equal or greater value to the amount of money I would spend at HP World. I know some people are only purchasing Harry Potter merchandise that is unlicensed and unofficial from places like Etsy, and therefore no profit is given to JKR. Personally, I can no longer read Harry Potter without also thinking of the incredibly harmful statements made by the series’ author.

It’s yet to be seen if JKR will suffer any real consequences. Bloomsbury is still pushing her new picture book, and the third film in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise is still set to premier. JK Rowling wrote the screenplay, and following the pattern of the first two films, will likely also be a producer. No matter what happens to JKR, and based on her immense wealth it will probably be nothing, we have to continue to educate ourselves and to support transgender individuals in their quest to live their lives the way they are meant to. Read books from transgender authors. Read scholarly work from academics who spent years studying gender and sexuality and have peer-reviewed research. If you have the resources, donate to organizations that support transgender individuals. Regardless, we must hold JKR accountable for her incredibly harmful statements. Plus, there are so many other incredible, amazing works that are far better than Harry Potter, and are written by incredible people, out there.

Tips for Allies of Trans people

The Trevor Project

Trans Lifeline