Wow, life is just awful right now, isn’t it?
I’m sorry I just said that, especially if (like me) you are trying to get through what may be a hump in your life or have taken a knock to your already-fragile self-confidence. I didn’t even want to write this post, particularly, but I felt like I kind of had to.
The issues I need to address were things I… well, I needed to address, really. I’ve been a bit slack in getting this post up, admittedly (I originally had a draft going on Blogger), and I wasn’t able to get my thoughts really into order. So, the issues going through my mind at the moment are…
Transphobia in the Sex Blogging Community
Like so many, I’ve found the sex blogging community to be a generally welcoming and accepting place, but with a nasty streak of elitism and self-righteous egocentricity rearing its head every now and again. I shouldn’t, therefore, be overly surprised that there are the odd incident of transphobia here and there… but I still am.
There’s a difference between transphobia and trans* erasure, but the issues that have surfaced within the community are more than just lazy trans* erasure. I don’t really feel as qualified to talk about these issues, not being trans* myself, but MxNillin has a post which covers the issues quite nicely and a Twitter thread you can get lost in, so go and read those if you want the details.
For what it’s worth, I read the post by Inigo More when it was still live, and I just thought it was pointless. A lazy attempt at satire that completely missed its mark and ended up being offensive, all tied up with a metaphor which had absolutely no relation to what his message – whatever it was – was.
I shouldn’t need to say trans* lives matter, or that transphobia and trans* erasure have no place in our modern, outwardly-looking sex blogging community in 2020, but I have to. It’s a sad fact that I have to, but I do.
The J. K. Rowling Problem
A bit of history here. I grew up in a secondary school full of rowdy boys and snipey girls, very few of whom liked me. For most of year 7, before I had any friends, the only place I could escape was into my imagination, and I built up incredibly complex fantasy worlds which masked most of the pain, even if I did get thrown through doors and hit in the face.
In year 8, I discovered Harry Potter. My mum bought the first book on a whim, and the second immediately after reading it. Azkaban came out when I was in year 9, and for the rest of my education, I had a world not too dissimilar to the one I had initially created. Deathly Hallows was released one year after I finished university (and I was working in bookshops at the time, so I had a front-row seat to its release), and I’d been following the series religiously up until that final book. I’ve even taken a liking to the Strike series more recently.
JKR’s transphobic comments, whether she made them knowingly or not, are disappointing. JKR herself is clearly a very intelligent person, so why she made the now-infamous “people who menstruate” tweet is beyond me. It’s dumbfounding; it makes no sense. Clearly the tweet she replied to didn’t want to equate “people who menstruate” to “women” (and quite right, too), so why did she contradict them with a joke?
Her attempt to rationalise seems less like an apology and more like an excuse. She bravely speaks about her experience with abusive relationships, but that’s not really what this issue is about. This is about trans* visibility, and JKR appears to have forgotten that. Her quote (from the article):
“If you didn’t already know [what TERF stands for] – and why should you? – …”
Really says it all. Yes, I do think the level of vitriol and hate directed at her is too much – of course it is – but this sort of ‘la la la I’m not listening’ approach from a much-admired author whose work I love and respect is confusing, baffling, and antagonising. Once again, trans* rights matter.
The Harry Potter Race Debate
Where I differ from some commentators on the JKR issue is the fact that they have taken this opportunity to look hack on the Potter canon and pick holes in it, with accusations of racism, sexism, discrimination and homophobia. Some of these issues seem valid when looked at critically; a few of them have come from people who clearly haven’t read the books and are just going by the films.
In my opinion, of of the greatest things about literature (and the main reason who I didn’t want the Potter series to be committed to film in the first place) is that you build up an image of the world in your head, with nothing to guide you but the words on the page. The way JKR writes is incredibly visual, but there are some things she left out. Her attempts to fuck with the canon post-Deathly Hallows genuinely haven’t helped with this. The fact remains, however, that the reader visualises the characters as they see fit in their head (my mother has never envisioned Harry wearing glasses).
A couple of character pointers I take issue with (note: this doesn’t mean that you are wrong if you disagree; this is just my opinion!):
(i) Hermione’s race isn’t stated in the books. What’s canon with her is that she has frizzy brown hair and slightly large front teeth (later corrected by magic during Goblet), and that she’s intelligent. In the films, she’s white; in the stage production, she’s black. That doesn’t actually mean that either race is canon – both work (both are different continuities anyway; the books are a third). Reading the books, the reader is left to make up their own mind. I envisioned her as white, but that’s just my interpretation.
(ii) Gay Dumbledore. This was added by JKR after publication as an attempt to… what? Diversify? I have no idea. In any case, a gay friend of mine worked this one out after first reading Stone and was finally proved right. I repeated his theory to some fellow Potter fans throughout the series and they slowly came round to the idea, as well. Whether JKR ever actually planned to have Dumbledore be gay is something I’m doubtful about, but it’s not like it came out of the blue. Fuck off with your “intense sexual relationship with Grindelwald”, though.
(iii) Cho Chang isn’t, in fact, the only Asian character in the books – Parvati and Padma Patil have Asian names as well. Plus, she isn’t actually explicitly said to be Asian at all! She has a East Asian-sounding name, of course, but all that’s said about her in the books is that she is shorter than Harry, one year older, and very pretty. In A Very Potter Musical (by StarKid), she’s from the American Deep South… and I never imagined her as being Asian… I was picturing Lisa Boyle!
It’s hard to separate art from artist
And this is the kicker (that’s a Russ Meyer quote – someone I also have an issue with). It’s difficult to enjoy Potter or Strike with the knowledge of JKR’s transphobia, the same as enjoying Father Ted with what you know now about Graham Linehan or Glee with what’s come out about Mark Salling and Naya Rivera. But I like all of those.
Zounds, I play Mario games for hours on end, and apparently Shigeru Miyamoto’s terrible to work with.
I’ve always, always, always tried to see art as what it is: art. If you previously enjoyed something that you now can’t enjoy because you take an issue with its creator then you are completely within your right to do that. I don’t have much of problem with enjoying art for art’s sake, but that is another thing about art: it is entirely down to the consumer how much you put into it.
I don’t know where things are going to go from here
And nobody does. We didn’t expect a global pandemic to hit this time last year. The lasting effects of this period of isolation, coupled with resurgent #BlackLivesMatter protests, greater challenges against transphobia (including within our own community!), a progressively weaker and ineffective Conservative government and ‘ordinary’ proles taking the helm, I’d like to think that we’ll all come out of this well: stronger, more woke, more united, and looking to the future.
I’d like to think that.
I don’t, but that’s just one more reason to try to make it a reality.