Friday, October 16, 2020

Everyone’s Entitled to be a Muggle: The Aunt Petunia Defense of J.K. Rowling

Defenses made on behalf of J.K. Rowling break down into three basic arguments (or non-arguments, as the case may be). They are:

1) “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion/Rowling’s entitled to her opinion.” As if the argument were that they are not or she is not. This is a trite, bland, arid statement that says nothing, although presumably it is supposed to protect a particular point of view from criticism. It seems to be the only thing defenders of Rowling can generally agree upon. The corollary, that other people besides Rowling are entitled to their opinions, too, and that those opinions are entitled to clash, and that it is necessary to mount an actual defense for one particular opinion over another, never seems to occur to defenders of Rowling.

2) “Rowling is not a transphobe because she says she’s not a transphobe.” A phobia is a groundless, irrational fear; transphobia is such a fear of transgendered individuals. Rowling refuses to admit her statements are motivated an irrational fear of transgendered individuals, hence, literally not transphobic. Instead, she maintains she is merely “concerned” for the safety and rights of cisgendered girls and women, which she sees threatened by dangerous transgendered individuals and the insidious transgender movement. The distinction between a groundless, irrational “concern” and a groundless, irrational fear is no more than a matter of euphemism; Rowling is a transphobe.

3) “Rowling is right; gender is determined at birth, and if your behavior doesn’t conform to what your society expects from your gender, you are at best a deluded freak.” This argument is most often made by people who not only agree with Rowling, but usually add their own even more bigoted and hateful statements to the mix. To date, Rowling has never denounced such support.

Worse, Rowling seems incapable of recognizing that transgressing society’s expectations (being a freak) is at the very core of Harry Potter’s appeal. An orphan, Harry is continually told by his Muggle stepparents that his peculiar talents make him a “freak,” and that he should strive to conform at all costs (and be a Muggle). Millions of readers were drawn to this ethos; yet the author now sees fit to violate this and bully a group of people who are powerless and harmless, and already persecuted.

Actress Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia Evans Dursley in the first Harry Potter film.

And yet, in a sense, this is not true. In the books, Harry’s apparent freakishness turns out to be the very source of his power. Joanne Rowling, who confesses she wished to change genders as a teenager, came of age when transgendering was still largely impractical medically and required tremendous courage socially. Rowling settled for reinventing her gender through a number of pseudonyms: the masculine-sounding nickname “Jo,” the gender-neutral initials “J.K.” (a partial fiction since she was given no middle name at birth), and the overtly masculine mystery-author pseudonym “Robert Galbraith.”

The power transgender individuals have, the power Rowling most fears, envies, and is threatened by, is their ability to reinvent themselves in fact, not merely on paper. Perhaps this is why her defenders most resemble feeble, resentful, arch-Muggle Aunt Petunia.

Note: Has anyone noticed the quiet retitling of the essay “TERF Wars”? I wonder if anyone has checked the current text against the original to see how she’s further dialing back her “concerns” to a semblance of political correctness.

Read my roman-feuilleton prose experiment, The Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series! New chapter every Friday!


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