Monday, July 6, 2020

Joanne, Jo, J.K. or Robert: Somebody Help Me Out Here...

This is the second of two parts. Read part one.

It’s okay for Joanne Rowling to write novels under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith”; it’s okay for her to obscure her gender using the made-up initials “J.K.” (she has no middle name); it’s okay for her to prefer the masculine-sounding nickname “Jo” over her feminine given name.
     It’s okay for her access a male voice in her prose, and write her narratives principally from the point of view of male protagonists. She has found a way to express the masculine side of the sexual dysphasia she experienced as a teenager (she later tells us), and it’s okay for you, too, to pretend to be a gender other than the one you may have been assigned at birth. She grants you permission thusly:
Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
She even wishes you well:
Live your best life in peace and security. 
She will go along with this nonsense, however, only so far:
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?
Feel free to call yourself a woman, dress like your idea of a woman, and sleep with anyone who may be into that sort of thing. You’re only deluding yourself and living in your own little world, and that seems harmless enough, to Jo Rowling. But you’re not a real woman, and in case you think you are, and think your rights match those of real women, you’ve got another think coming.
     Again, it’s okay to pretend. That’s what Robert, J.K., and Jo do, or what Joanne has done by convincing herself that she is Robert, J.K., and Jo when she writes. But she has also born three children and endured mistreatment because she’s a woman, and she’s not going to give up her battle scars now.
     She’s found the correct solution for herself. But she’s terrified at the prospect that others may have devised their own solutions, even so far as to actualizing their imagined selves within social reality.
     This is called transphobia—a fear of people who, socially or surgically, assume a gender identity that is out of synch with traditional norms.

What makes you different makes you special.

     Joanne rejects the term transphobe—she maintains that she knows and loves trans people, although her compassion is akin to the pity one would have for a deluded nitwit. “Call yourself whatever you like,” you poor thing. “Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you,” assuming you can find anyone who would have you.
     She believes that like her, individuals who question their gender will get over it, just like she got over her sexual dysphasia. But has she—Robert? J.K.? Jo?—really gotten over it?

Thought I would have a great deal more to say in what was to be the second half of an essay. However, I have already laid out what is wrong with the “Who’ll have you” passage (a snide and sarcastic rhetorical question she gives to Hermione twice in the space of five pages in The Goblet of Fire) in the first part. The fact is, Jo continues to Tweet, give love to Stephen King then take it away, equate hormone therapy with the lazy overprescription of anti-depressants, and much else.
     She continues to discuss menstruation, rape, death threats, and other topics on the same Tweeter feed with which she praises children’s drawings of her The Ichabog text. At the very least, J.K. Rowling has become a publicist’s nightmare. At the worst—and this is my suspicions—she’s come completely unglued.
     At this point, any further comment on the dissolution of her fandom speaks for itself. I witnessed the heyday of Harry Potter sales at Borders and saw the kinds of people, of all ages and education levels who read her work. Then, she had the perfect rags-to-riches backstory and go do no wrong. I am convinced she never could have built such a vast audience now. Her reputation is in tatters and the magic is gone. I wouldn’t even be willing to take bets as to how much further the damage will go.

I will say that I have always been a bit surprised that Harry Potter fandom has never seemed to cross over with comics fandom in the way that Star Trek, Star Wars, or even the dreadful Dr. Who fandoms seem to have. It’s as if Harry Potter never happened in that reality. And in a sense, that’s true: Borders was a real bookstore. Maybe Harry Potter was what the kids read who put down other kids for reading comic books.
     But I’ve no doubt overtaxed my own social media followers by going on about this Rowling business. It has already been seismic enough. The steady flow of Rowling commentary in just the past week has been too vast to even comment on.
     As I said last December, I would love to have the number of readers Rowling has ungratefully and needlessly thrown away. I will probably never live long enough to have anything like such a wide audience for my imagination. Or for that matter, as sensitive, intelligent, inclusive, and just plain well-read.
     And they are heartbroken.

Update 7/17/2020: So much has happened in the past ten days (to say nothing of since December 23, 2019, when I first posted on Facebook about this). The book industry has reported a significant slump in sales of Harry Potter and other J.K. Rowling titles compared to gains across the board during the summer of the pandemic, particularly for childhood reading. Some parents seem put off by Rowling’s views as they look to encourage their children to read and learn at home. Vera Wang has debuted a Harry Potter line of handbags and accessories but felt compelled to issue a statement in support of diversity that distances it from Rowling. Several indy bookstores have dropped or curtailed vending Rowling works. Nearly every media outlet of any substance (and quite of few fringe outlets) have covered the story, and it has become a mammoth business story as well as a culture wars story.

About the only supporters of Rowling at this point are a few sycophants within her fandom who refuse to think critically for themselves and insist Rowling is not a transphobe because she has literally denied it; claim that she “only said” this point or that point (leaving out the totality and context of her statements, i.e. drastically oversimplifying her position and overlooking her imperious tone and obstinacy); people outside her fandom that never read Harry Potter or had any use for her; right wing pundits who see her as giving it to left-wing “cancel culture”; or morons who tacitly or explicitly agree with her, often professing even more hateful bigotry.

At the same time, bathroom or lockerroom violence committed by transgender women (or men claiming to be women) against women or girls (Rowling’s trigger phobia) remains steady at zero (or as one Facebook poster put it, never in the history of never), while violence against transgender women presumably continues.

Oh yes, and Miriam Margolyes, the 79-year-old actress who portrayed Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films and a long-time vocal lesbian, said, “If you seriously want to become a woman you should be allowed to. You can’t be fascist about it,” implying that remarks such as Rowling’s can only compound the confusion and stress for individuals contemplating such decisions.

For her part, Rowling remains defiant, refusing to engage with any of the mountain of thoughtful criticism or remarks, preferring to reduce it all to death threats, hate speech, and an attempt to “silence women”; significantly, she pointedly refuses to engage with anyone with a name, and especially with anyone associated with her franchise, such as Daniel Radcliffe, whose substantial remarks have gone unrebutted.

Frankly, I’ve come to regard her dismissive and haughty deployment of power over these weeks at least as repulsive and off-putting as her views themselves. Rowling once epitomized the ne plus ultra of creative control, of both the publishing world and Hollywood reverentially catering to her whims and adapting her works faithfully because readers loved her books. Now she epitomizes an author whom no one has been able to say no to for a long time, and is so used to things falling into place perfectly for so long she no longer has the capacity to handle adversity, critique, or constructive suggestions from fans, friends, and collaborators.

Radcliffe’s hope that Rowling transphobic views would not “taint” the magic readers once felt for the series “too much” now seems rather quaint and wistful; many of her business partners must be wondering how much of the success she’s enjoyed since 1997 she is yet willing to undo.

Update 7/24/2020: With the news today that Rowling is suing news sites that characterize her as a transphobe (only an apt description of someone with an irrational fear of transgendered individuals based on the myth that one would go to the trouble of switching genders to stage an attack in a ladies room) for libel, I concede I have absolutely no respect left for this author. It was only five years ago this summer that I finally sat down and read all the Harry Potters and watched all the films. Her mix of humor, pathos, brilliant plotting, and uncanny ability to narrate it all as if she had no idea what would happen next blew me away, and convinced me that my own stories deserved to be in prose form. Far more troubling than her whacky views on gender, as I said before, is her now manifestly evident obstinacy and ability to ignore every one of her well-meaning fans who have put forward intelligent and thoughtful arguments against her views. This willful ignorance, coupled with a truly corrupt deployment of power (Hachette de facto threatening its employees, Bloomsbury issuing vague and almost certainly misleading statements about her continued bestseller status in the UK, and now the truly hackneyed army of libel lawyers) at the end of the day, is a complete violation of everything Harry Potter was, at root, about.

As I said on Facebook: Until today, "I held out a glimmer of hope that at least she would listen and engage with the overwhelming number of coherent, thoughtful rebuttals to her views. I have surrendered all hope. She's now a gross caricature of ignorance, pathology, and corrupt power. Considering the high admiration I had for her intelligence, humor, and uncanny plotting ability, I can't imagine a more stunning reversal in my lifetime. Absolutely zero respect for her now."

I predict she's on a long, irreversible slide to her own oblivion. It is only a question of how long she lives and how quickly her fortune evaporates. It might take twenty years, but I see Harry Potter being completely forgotten within a generation, not unlike many a bestseller of yesteryear that not even historians of literature bother to read.

Link: Some forgotten names in children's lit, 1850-1869.
Read my YA prose experiment, The Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series! New chapter every Friday!

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