By Carrie Goldman
When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was first published in July of 2007, my husband and I splurged and pre-ordered two hardcover copies—an unthinkable luxury—so we could both read the long-awaited finale to the epic series.
That summer, I was in the thick of trying to nurse my newborn, A, a wisp of a child with gorgeous long-lashed brown eyes. Futile attempts at breastfeeding A led to bout after bout of mastitis, landing me in the hospital on IV antibiotics right after the Fourth of July weekend. One of the things that kept me going was my excitement about the upcoming Harry Potter book release.
The first time I left A with someone else was in the third week of July when my husband and I hired a babysitter to watch A and our easygoing three-year-old daughter, K, so we could walk down the street and eat dinner at a restaurant. We brought our respective copies of Harry Potter, sat outside on a glorious evening, and read in contented silence until the last rays of sunlight dipped out of the sky.
During that summer, K, our beloved older daughter who joined our family through adoption, soaked in Mommy and Daddy’s obsession with Harry Potter. She took my hand, delicately mindful of the fragile baby in the sling, and we danced through our condo into an imaginary Hogwarts castle. When she turned four, she insisted I pipe “Happy Birthday, Hermione!” in buttercream frosting across her Harry-Potter-themed birthday cake.
Ours is a family of readers. Every room in our house is crammed with books. Picture books, chapter books, novels, nonfiction books, reference books, graphic novels and literary fiction—we love them all. A creative genius, J.K. Rowling has been one of our family’s real-life heroes for years. Far more than just a source of entertaining literature, the Harry Potter books provided a natural platform for teaching our kids about serious issues such as privilege, racism, and the dangers of a society that lacks empathy.
As tweens, our kids began reading some of the nonfiction books that explore the cultural phenomenon of Harry Potter. Dr. Janina Scarlet, author of Harry Potter Therapy and Superhero Therapy, uses insights from the Harry Potter series to help her patients, especially those that feel alone or different.
“We learn the importance of compassion and love toward people of all backgrounds, faiths, and heritages,” she says. “The series has become a refuge for people who have been discriminated against and excluded merely for the magic of their uniqueness.”
Yes, I know. My own child is one of those people who has sought refuge in the Harry Potter books, yearning for a world where acceptance is everything and heroes refuse to stay silent in the face of oppression.
The tiny baby that was failing to thrive as an infant in the summer of 2007, came to us last year in the summer of 2019 and told us that we do not, in fact, have a little girl named A, but a trans nonbinary child named D.
“The daughter you had is gone, and she is never coming back,” D said.
In the weeks and months since, there have been times when D’s redefined gender identity makes so much sense. D’s body has waged constant war against itself since infancy. Childhood has been a blur of doctor visits and medical interventions, all in an attempt to ease D’s chronic suffering—from severe allergies, failure to thrive, inflammation, and, worst of all, from some elusive agony that caused our child to regularly scream, starting at age three, that something felt terribly wrong in their body.
We are mid-transition. I say we, because D transitioned internally before coming out and is simply in the process of bringing the rest of us up to speed. Sometimes I glimpse visible relief in my child, who now sports short-cropped hair in place of long brown curls, wears a gender-neutral wardrobe, and answers to a new name and different pronouns.
“Do you still love me?” D asks. “With every ounce of my being,” I respond.
What I am learning is that the calibration of love is an imperfect science; you can offer up every last drop and the balance might still feel uneven to a scared child—be that fear rooted in birth history, gender identity, skin color, ability, sexual orientation, or any other source of difference.
There will always be a gaping need for more and more and more love added to the scales when the world is telling some children that they aren’t good enough. And it has been a shock that J.K. Rowling—one of our family’s champions and heroes—has chosen to deny the very existence of people like D.
In a series of tweets, starting in December 2019 when J.K. Rowling tweeted her support of an anti-trans British researcher, she has alienated and invalidated the trans community. Despite the resounding response by many unhappy fans, Rowling doubled down on her anti-trans views—during Pride month, no less—in June of 2020, when she compared hormone therapy for trans people to the controversial and demeaning practice of “gay conversion therapy.”
Rowling’s intractable stance on trans rights feels like a betrayal to many of her readers, who have long found solace and validation in the messages of inclusion she promotes in the Harry Potter series.
D has no illusions about the effect of Rowling’s influence. “A lot of people don’t understand that being trans and nonbinary is real. I’d respect her so much if she could listen to the trans community say, ‘I was wrong and I’m sorry and how can I do better?’”
Our family has struggled with what to do about our fandom. Should we separate the art from the artist, acknowledging that many of our favorite singers, athletes, and actors have engaged in acts of discrimination and violence? Or do we explore the collective power of cancel culture, in which everyday people hold creators and companies accountable for their behaviors?
For now, we are taking a hybrid approach to the problem. Our Harry Potter books will remain in our beloved library of literary collections, but we will stop purchasing Harry Potter toys, costumes, pajamas, action figures, or any other merchandise that benefits Rowlings.
Love and empathy ultimately prevail in the Harry Potter series, and we are choosing hope. Perhaps Rowling will take a cue from her fans and correct her course. It would be a perfect teachable moment to show readers that it is never too late to take accountability, repair, and make amends, qualities that define the greatest of heroes.