Musings on J.K. Rowling and That Issue
Today I will tentatively offer some thoughts on an issue that has been rumbling along for some time. J.K. Rowling’s truly… interesting… obsession with transgenderism. I realise that I am coming rather late to the subject, but honestly Rowling’s tendency for outbursts means that the issue will almost certainly erupt again, like some sort of malign media geyser. As a disclaimer, I am not transgender myself, but I know transgender and non-binary people personally. I am also not going to tackle wider philosophical issues of gender, which is quite outside my expertise. Rather, I am merely offering my perspective, as a writer, reader, and inmate of the early twenty-first century. Because I think that this entire issue reveals something quite strange about media and art in the current environment.
I do happen to think that Rowling’s views are indeed wrong. That’s not actually something I am going to elaborate on – far smarter people than I have weighed-in on the subject. Instead, I would approach this from a different angle:
Why the hell do J.K. Rowling’s views on transgenderism actually matter?
Strip away the wealth and fame from Rowling, and you are left with a pretty average British woman in her mid-50s. Chances are, you know a woman of that particular age-group. And chances are, if you randomly grabbed a middle-aged woman off the street, and thrust a microphone at her, she would also have strange opinions about certain things. All of us have opinions that others would consider strange, if only they were made public. This is why politicians are generally cautious in what they say… their very careers hinge on keeping their more eccentric (or at least unpopular) opinions to themselves.
J.K. Rowling is not a politician. She is just a member of the public, with a very, very loud microphone, and an iron-clad belief that everyone else is somehow interested in her views on the Major Issues of the Day. The result is that the sort of strange views that would normally be confined to a small group of confidantes are broadcast far and wide. Which in turn has led to these regular media storms. It’s as though the Greek-hating woman from that ‘Chinese’ episode of Father Ted were somehow given her own prime-time show, where her incoherent rants are heard by millions, rather than just by her immediate friends and the hapless parish priest.
Because, really, J.K. Rowling’s ‘qualifications’ for all this publicity simply stem from the fact that she wrote the Harry Potter books. And those books now exist quite independently of whatever Rowling wants to natter on about this week – Death of the Author, and all that. Certainly, there are plenty of people for whom separating the art from the artist is a difficult exercise, but as I see it, Rowling’s views on the meaning of those books is less important than what those books mean in the minds of the readers… as one transgender activist has said, if there is one thing Harry Potter has taught us, it is that no-one should have to live in a closet.
Meanwhile, the idea that being a celebrity author somehow grants Rowling a special insight into Major Social Issues is eminently absurd. She has her well-documented views on Scottish Independence (opposed), Brexit (opposed), and Jeremy Corbyn (despises), and to be fair, those views are probably quite widespread. Even her views on transgenderism are probably quite mainstream among “pretty average British women in their mid-50s”, to the point where calling her a TERF is actually a misnomer. She’s a TELF, a very run-of-the-mill Liberal Feminist, whose social views crystallised in a quite different era, but who nevertheless holds forth on Current Thought to the point of obsession. And therein lies the problem – the concept of the celebrity in modern media means that the uninformed rants of a (famous) obsessive are given far more credence than they actually deserve. By contrast, when I make my own uninformed rants into the aether, I know no-one cares, and rightly so.
Rowling is not going to change her views, of course. She has dug her heels in, to the point where she now sees herself as a martyr. More ugly vitriol erupting from this particular geyser is not going to achieve anything, beyond making more people angry. Rather, I think a healthier approach would be to treat the next Rowling Outburst as something of no more significance than Random Blowhard having a whine to their neighbour across the fence. Because, beneath the media circus, that is all it is. So ignore the silly woman with delusions of grandeur and get on with your life. Meanwhile, so far as the art itself goes… one could imagine that the ‘J.K. Rowling’ who wrote those beloved books was a pseudonym for a secret time-travelling Francis Bacon, Earl of Oxford, or Christopher Marlowe. Or something. Anything to stop people taking the celebrity author too seriously.