Sorry J.K. Rowling, But Fanfiction Made "Harry Potter" Great

Almost a year ago, I wrote an article about J.K. Rowling and her nuanced public image. If you haven’t read that piece, the main takeaway was that while she does do good things with her fame (and namely, her wealth, as she gives it away and supports the welfare of UK citizens), the more she adds to the Harry Potter universe, the more harm she does to the world she created and the fandom that associates with it.

Photo by Samir Hussein on Wireimage

Well, I felt the need to write a revision of sorts, given the recent transphobic comments Rowling posted on her Twitter. While this wasn’t Rowling’s first public display of transphobia, it certainly is now the most infamous case. I’m not going to sit here and dissect her opinion, but if you want something more in-depth about why what she said is wrong (and hurtful), read this. This piece is more about how individuals who love Harry Potter but also hate transphobia (and prejudice in general) engage with the Harry Potter universe.

Although we cannot ignore J.K. Rowling’s role in founding Harry Potter, we also cannot ignore the massive influence of the Harry Potter fandom. There are many fans of the original books and movie series who cannot support the Fantastic Beasts franchise, whether it’s because of Johnny Depps’ involvement or the overall bad writing. There are also many fans who didn’t enjoy Cursed Child because we felt that the characters were not written in a way that was true to their book characters. So what do fans do when they want more Harry Potter content that they can relate to?

They write fanart and fanfiction.

Fandom is the perfect in-between to showing love and appreciation for a series that has changed so many people’s lives and supporting an author that has hurt many of those said fans. A perfect example of this in the Harry Potter fandom is my favorite character, Remus Lupin. For those who don’t know, Rowling said long ago that Remus’s struggle with lycanthropy (AKA his very painful transformation into a werewolf every month) was a metaphor for people who struggle with an AIDS diagnosis. In the wizarding world, having lycanthropy carries a lot of stigmas, just like an AIDS diagnosis does in the real world. In fact, the actor who plays Remus in the movies was told that he should play him like he was “a gay junkie”. There is a link here as AIDS has historically greatly affected the LGBT population. Needless to say, people did not respond well to Rowling comparing the experience of having AIDS to someone turning into a beast who eats other people. And yet, Remus Lupin is so often portrayed as LGBT in Potter fandom.

I don’t believe this is merely because J.K. Rowling decided that Remus Lupin should be a metaphor for a stigmatized illness. Rather, I think that LGBT fans were able to project their pain and suffering onto Remus’s character, and resonated with his experience more than other characters in the series. Remus tells Harry about how deeply grateful he was that his friends accepted him and loved him for who he is, and Harry sees how lonely Remus feels once all of his friends are gone, as much of the world is hostile to him. I know that personally, I empathized deeply with Remus’s feelings of not being able to fit in because he is different. But his consistently gentle disposition and wittiness gave the reader hope, as even when the world kicked him down he would still treat everyone with kindness and respect. He is one of the best professors Harry ever has, and Harry cares deeply for Remus and his happiness. Reading fanfiction about Remus as a gay character changes none of these characteristics that readers love about him, but serves to create another connection between the reader and the character.

So what does this have to do with J.K. Rowling being transphobic? I guess now that I (and many others) no longer hold J.K. Rowling up to “hero” status, it can be difficult to grapple with how we feel about the series of work that she created. I love Harry Potter, but I will not deny all the issues surrounding race, sexuality, and gender that affect the series. But that doesn’t mean I will stop reading Harry Potter, or stop loving the books, the movies, and all the lore that has come to surround it. I think fanfiction is a great tool to love Harry Potter while still discussing the issues that plague both the plot and the author. The queer coding of all different Harry Potter characters is proof that the series does not have to be ruined for the reader just because the author has proven themselves to be problematic. Harry Potter isn’t just Rowling’s to have, it’s been a part of all of us since the day we opened up a book or played the first movie.

So for all of my fellow LGBT Potter fans, keep imagining Hogwarts as a place with diversity. Keep imagining characters as trans, gay, bisexual, and all of the above. J.K. Rowling can’t change what she has written, just as we can’t change what she has said. But we can make it our own through our fanart, fanfiction, and support of one another. Maybe one day she could read some of the fanfiction she has inspired and realize how wrong she really is.