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Can We Talk About The Transphobic Sized Elephant in the Harry Potter Theatre?

CW: A lot of references to transphobia and hard examples of racism/islamophobia/sexism/etc.

If a billionaire author was parading around ideas that “black people are an inferior, less evolved race, we MUST maintain segregated schools/washrooms/fountains/etc.” then we would not justify to ourselves a trip to the theatre to watch their fun little magic fantasy play.

If an author wrote novels about the pernicious dangers of “Jews as shifty salacious world conquering magnates” we might think better of programming her play.

If she espoused that “gays are pedophiles” we might not go to her show where her name is slapped on as a precursor to the title: JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (as seen on every bus in Toronto).

But instead, she is simply saying “Trans women are predatory men in dresses. Trans “ideology” is erasing cis-woman. Trans liberation eliminates women liberation.”

This is transphobic vitriol that escalates to incalculable violence. It is the bedrock and the foundation which policies and laws are codified for the suppression and erasure of trans people. It is the building blocks which lead to Trans women, and especially Trans women of color, being the most vulnerable group in any society with disproportionately astronomical rates of murder, suicide, homelessness, and exploitation.

She is ACTIVELY attacking and espousing transphobic rhetoric, relentlessly, for nearly a decade, and with no consequences. Actually, her most recent book where a transphobe is our main protagonist hero, is currently a best seller! – Ironically J.K. Rowling is actually pretending to be a man named Robert Galbraith when releasing these books.

People are so destabilized by the miniscule minority of trans people on this planet gaining any sort of liberation, dignity, and freedom that they champion her words. Or at best, they ignore it, and attend an innocuous play.

I don’t need to be angry on behalf of anyone; I won’t be able to advocate better than Trans and non-binary people for their own liberation. But I do hear many Trans and non-binary people frustrated by the silence and neglect in our atmosphere – digitally and in person.

This is something I think deeply about and as a queer man, it is a cause that is adjacent to my own freedom and activism. But, more importantly, it doesn’t need to directly affect me in order for me to speak toward it. And I know not all Trans and non-binary people will agree with this activism, so let’s leave space for the nuance this conversation asks – I simply think we, particularly cis-people, should not neglect the conversation as we have been.

We have an opportunity to adopt our learning from the race reckoning of the past few years into this situation. Allyship is an active commitment which is reflected in every part of ourselves – our words, where our money is spent, what art we witness, who we date, who we hire at work, the friends we surround ourselves with, etc.

Why should an allyship to Trans people be any different?

J.K. Rowling is not even attempting to engage with the Trans liberation movement as demonstrated by her letter released a while ago. She has no grasp of the activism being asked from these communities.

The first thing we should endeavor to understand when engaging with a particular community’s activism is a commitment to learning how they best understand themselves.

The first thing we should endeavor to understand when engaging with a particular community’s activism is a commitment to learning how they best understand themselves. Whether I am trying to unlearn my own Anti-Blackness, Anti-Indigeneity, Anti-Semitism or Transphobia, I have to learn the words, languages, and affects (in all the diverse and conflicting knowledges) that they best describe themselves – it takes work, it’s hard, and it takes years to build. We are allowed to be agnostic on matters we don’t fully understand. But at the very least, I do understand the social and psychological implications of their oppression and marginalization – and I have to sit on the foundation that I don’t NEED to understand someone fully in order to honor their dignity fully.

...and I have to sit on the foundation that I don’t NEED to understand someone fully in order to honor their dignity fully

J.K. Rowling’s relentless attack on, particularly, Trans women, feels like a regurgitation of the dominant cis-normative narrative. If you read her words and think, even secretly to yourself, she makes a fair point, you have an opportunity to lean into the learnings and knowledges that emanates out of the diversity of Trans experiences. Actually, this is all the more reason and responsibility to do so if we are truly commitment to living with compassion for one another.

What her letter most revealed is that she has internalized transphobic propaganda and wielded it to fight against the SAME thing that trans women are afraid of – misogyny and patriarchal domination.

And to make matters worse, those of us in Toronto, who have patted ourselves on the back for our gender-neutral washrooms that swept across theatres over the past several years, who have added “She/Her” or “He/Him” to our email signatures, who have taken every LGBTQIA+ inclusion full day training course – have gone in droves to watch our friends in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. And then, as a community, we gifted them Dora Award nomination after nomination – undoubtedly some which they will win.

It isn’t about our friends who took the job, although, this is a deeper and harder conversation in itself - but this is about our Trans friends – friends, colleagues, students, people I know and care for and love – who I hear crying and calling out with such little response on social media and in conversations that J.K. Rowling is an author with an impact that needs to be resisted.

In this moment, it is crucial that we DON’T separate the art from the artist.

In this moment, it is crucial that we DON’T separate the art from the artist. There are circumstances that this might be possible – but with an artist who is actively writing transphobic rhetoric, it is not the time.

Again, if an author blatantly tweeted against “the dangers of the Muslims coming into this country, making it an unsafe nation for the Brits/Canadians/Americans/Australians/etc.” we might think better about championing their work.

But she isn’t saying that; she is transphobic.

And perhaps we can neglect and ignore this moment because we, ourselves, have not reckoned with our own transphobia.

I don’t know if progress is linear, I don’t know if things will always get better. These past few years have shown me that that may not be the case. But I continually put my faith onto Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy and trust that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.

One day, I hope we can all unanimously agree that statements like “Trans women are predatory men in dresses” is just as dangerous as the biological essentialist arguments of race theorists of the 20th century, with their craniology of the races and their arguments of evolutionary superiority levied against Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

I hope we can look at someone like J.K. Rowling today and recognize the poison of her words.

We might achieve that if we un-work our own transphobia.

We might achieve that if we un-work our own transphobia.

So instead of watching Harry Potter, go watch “Every Little Nookie” at Stratford. Or watch all three seasons of “Pose.” Or read a book written by a Trans or non-binary author. If you need your fantasy fill, there are a ton of material you can find (look at the lists below). I was a massive Harry Potter fan – but this time I will throw out the baby with the bath water. The baby’s been tainted and poisoned and keeps sending money to its mommy who is creating more babies full of transphobia.

Let's have the courage to have this conversation with each other and with ourselves.

Here are some great works by Trans people (please add more):

Acha Bacha – Bilal Baig (buy the script here)

How to Fail as a Pop Star – Vivek Shraya (touring Ontario now)

Every Little Nookie – Sunny Drake (here)

A list of fantasy and sci-fi novels by Trans authors here.

A list of books by Trans POC authors here

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