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Never Meet Your Heroes

*Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, abuse, transphobia*

At the start of shelter-in-place, I wanted to mitigate the amount of “sad content” I was consuming. The emotional toll being stuck in my apartment because of a global pandemic was too high to continue listening to true crime podcasts, scrolling through the news, and reading books about trauma. So I turned towards the one book series that had a 100% success-rate in cheering me up and helping me escape: Harry Potter.

As a kid, Harry Potter became a defining part of my life. I grew up with the characters (and the actors) and found a lot of myself in the stories. As cheesy as it sounds, I am very much the person I am today because of Harry Potter. I especially looked up to the author, J.K. Rowling. Hearing how she wrote some of the first book on napkins, struggled to get a publisher, and then suddenly had more money than the Queen of England, inspired me. She was my answer to the question “Who would you have dinner with, dead or alive?” and the subject of multiple book reports. Rowling became my hero. But as the saying goes, you should never meet your heroes.

To be fully honest, I am not transgender. I am a straight, cis-gendered woman. So I want to recognize that I cannot speak for the trans community. But her most recent transphobic tweets and subsequent essay doubling down on that transphobia, broke my heart. How could this incredibly intelligent, successful, and seemingly accepting woman not recognize trans women as real women? Why was she denying solid, scientific data that completely disproves the argument that children typically grow out of gender dysphoria? How was it possible she thought men would “pretend” to be women so they could assault people in the women’s bathroom?

My hero, the one who said Dumbledore was gay, denies the humanity of a disadvantaged group of people, who desperately need powerful voices to affirm who they are, since so many deny it. And she was someone I aspired to be like! Now I’m no stranger to learning that people I respected in the public eye have truly shown their colors. Louis C.K. used to be my favorite comedian. I loved so many of both Woody Allen and Roman Polanski’s movies. And I understood that I needed to shift my view on the art in order to accommodate for their horrific behavior. So many individuals let me down, as they did countless others. But how could J.K. Rowling now be among their ranks?

The hardest part about Rowling’s transphobia is that, in an attempt to explain her views, she disclosed that she is a survivor of relationship abuse and sexual assault and this is partly why she holds these opinions about the trans community. She said that although she knows that trans people suffer from these traumas and deserve to be protected, she thinks the presence of trans women in female spaces would make “natal girls and women less safe.” What hurt the most about this is that I am also a survivor of relationship abuse and sexual assault. And that experience has greatly influenced my views and my drive for advocacy, but in absolutely no way did it make me want to exclude trans women. If anything, it made me care so much more. Being the target of so much violence and hatred, I feel that it is imperative to protect and advocate for trans women, along with cis-women. I want to help trans women heal from the same trauma we’ve all been through. This hard truth about Rowling caused such dissonance: I was simultaneously learning that my childhood hero also experienced the same trauma as I have AND that she somehow didn’t believe trans women were women. My connection to her was strengthened and then immediately damaged.

I’m not exactly sure how I feel about “cancel culture;” I do believe people have to be held accountable for their actions, and individuals like Harvey Weinstein are unsafe to have in everyday society. But I also believe that empathy is the strongest tool in an activist’s toolbox: to listen to people who think differently and help educate them. So what do I do with my childhood hero? Do I cancel her? Do I hold out hope that she’ll educate herself and change? Can we love someone while remaining deeply disappointed in them? And even if we can… should we?

Since this all came out, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has been sitting on my nightstand, gathering dust. I haven’t been able to pick it up without questioning if it’s okay for me to, or if I’d be violating my values. And I don’t mean to say that I’ve decided to cancel J.K. Rowling - I still don’t know. But I’m sitting with that discomfort. And I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever figure it out. I just know that my heart is so, so heavy.

About the Author: Sydney Bauer - I am Chicagoland area native and a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I currently work full-time as the Membership and Partnership Coordinator for the Network of Executive Women, a nonprofit that works to advance women in the workplace. Outside of that position, I also freelance as a documentary filmmaker, focusing on impact campaigns, and produce podcast that address relationship abuse, a topic that is very important to me. In 2018, I was a Member of the Obama Foundation’s Community Leadership Corps. I am an avid reader and podcast-listener and can frequently be found at a concert venue. I am drawn to a program like IDEAS to make sure I am constantly learning and using my privileges to help others.

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