A few months ago, the cashier at my neighbourhood bookstore looked on in bemusement as I squealed over three (quite expensive) books that I hadn’t budgeted for. I was stocking up on lockdown literature for my household and had pretty much concluded my transaction when I spied, out of the corner of my eye, the words "Harry Potter" on a book spine.
The store had only two copies each of the illustrated coffee-table editions of the first three books in the Harry Potter series. I took half their stock, dancing and hugging the (quite heavy!) books to my chest the entire time. I was so excited that I video-called one of my closest friends to show her the gorgeous, glossy pages. Even writing about it now is suffusing my body with warmth and joy.
The world of Hogwarts remains one of the most wondrous experiences of my childhood. I wish I could explain how magical and wonderful and freeing and thrilling it was for me to enter this universe. To this day, I’ve only watched one of the Harry Potter movies because I prefer how my imagination conjured up Hermione’s serious face, Diagon Alley, Hagrid’s ponderous walk, the chaos of the Weasley household, Moaning Myrtle’s flooded toilet, Gringotts and its goblins ...
When I was 11 or 12, my mother banned Harry Potter from our household (after getting rid of my one Pokémon T-shirt). She believed, like many Nigerian evangelical Christian adults, that stories of witchcraft were tools of indoctrination into real-life sorcery. This might seem ridiculous to you reading this (it’s ridiculous even to me, and I love my mother very much), but it’s a very serious thing around these parts.
To this day, I know several parents who won’t let their children watch animated shows like Hotel Transylvania or Vampirina. In fact, I can give you a great example from just last weekend. In response to Beyoncé’s new music film Black is King, a Nigerian social media influencer put out what can only be described as a mini-thesis on how Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is a witch. Apparently, Bey is being used by the devil to advance the cause of darkness through music. A lot of Nigerian Christians really believe this stuff.
In any case, my mother’s embargo on the Harry Potter series only made me enjoy it more. It was no longer just magical, it was now a magical opportunity to defy my parents. As I borrowed copies off classmates, I felt even closer to the hidden world beyond Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.
Until my mum suggested it, it never occurred to me that I might end up a witch. Having grown up on children’s literature that explicitly did not include people who looked like me (Enid Blyton, anyone?), I was used to feeling like no more than a visitor in my favourite worlds. Still, my mother’s stance made it all more exciting. The world of Hogwarts wasn’t just a secret, it was my secret--and who knew, maybe I wasn’t a boring muggle after all. Perhaps I might end up walking the same halls as my fellow muggle-born witch, Hermione, one day!
I’m almost 30 now, and despite endlessly reading Harry Potter and listening to every Beyoncé album, it’s quite clear that there is not an ounce of witchery or magic in me. All I have is the chance to revisit the secret world of my childhood through reading. Or it was all I had until it became apparent to me how little JK Rowling thinks of transgender people in general, and women in particular.
Ms Rowling is exceptionally loud and completely unrepentant when it comes to telling dangerously incomplete and even blatantly false stories about trans women. Her relentless concern trolling is particularly infuriating because, as a cisgender white woman with immense wealth, she is very insulated from what most people experience as real life. Like, at this point in her life, she has enough personal power that the worst thing most people can do to her is post unflattering things on the internet.
So why the fuck won’t she just leave trans women, who are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, alone?
I have no idea. As a person who prefers to be in conversation and community with non-bigots, I can’t pretend to be keenly interested in how bigots’ minds work. I just wish, selfishly perhaps, that the woman who created something so precious to so many millions of people didn’t turn out this way. (By "this way", I mean this committed to vilifying and gaslighting transgender women while claiming false victimhood.)
The friend who I called squealing about the illustrated Harry Potter books has asked me what I’m going to do with them. I genuinely don’t know. I was so looking forward to sharing these books with my daughter, who is an extremely avid reader. (She’s only 7 but she finished Jeanne DuPrau’s four-part Book of Ember series, which I also love very much, in 10 days. Can you tell how proud I am?)
I’ve asked the bookstore if I can return the books since they’re still in pristine condition, and they’ve very graciously agreed to let me. But I haven’t taken them in yet.
I’m so torn. I go from being angry to being sad, then back again. And I can’t imagine how this feels for transgender children or even adults who love(d) the Harry Potter universe; who found ways to see themselves in it even if they weren’t explicitly included; who imagined themselves with the Sorting Hat on their heads in a hall full of eager magic-makers; who crept around their houses at night while pretending they were using the Marauder’s map; who gasped when they discovered the truth about Sirius Black and couldn’t decide whether to go back to the earlier books to see what they missed or just keep reading.
It hurts in a way that feels really personal. I don’t know what to do with it all. For now, my illustrated editions remain on my bookshelf, untouched. Every time I look over my shoulder I wonder whether today will be the day when that changes, one way or another. And I hate that I feel like I have to make such a decision.
I don’t know what to say, y’all. Just, you know, let’s try not to be shitty people, especially to people who already have a hard go of it. Like, it’s surely not that hard?
Till next time,