There’s a certain irony in the recent news surrounding J.K. Rowling’s transphobic tweets (examples here, here, here and here) and recent blog post. Harry Potter is one of the most frequently banned series, often featured during ALA’s Banned Books Week. J.K. Rowling doesn’t understand that when she silences the real, lived experiences of trans people, she is banning a narrative that is not only crucial to the feminist and social justice movement but to humanity as well.
How is she silencing, you might ask? At the risk of sharing her trans exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) rhetoric, when she says, “Some [young women] say they decided to transition after realising they were same-sex attracted, and that transitioning was partly driven by homophobia, either in society or in their families,” she is insinuating that it is easier to avoid discrimination for being gay by becoming trans. She is implying that those who transition do not know what they actually want. This is tantamount to the idea that women who seek abortions need a “waiting period” to ponder something they’ve likely deeply considered. She is shushing trans people and telling them they don’t know what’s best for them. She is telling them biologic sex matters more – and speaks louder.
The backlash from her TERF blog post and tweets has prompted a few independent bookstores to remove her titles from their shelves. Once again, we have a case of private businesses choosing to not support a cause or belief that goes against their values. Left Bank Books co-owner Jarek Steele put it best when he said, “We know we’ll hear cries of censorship and First Amendment rights violations. We’ll remind you that there are millions of books that aren’t on our shelves. We curate. It’s our job. That series doesn’t need our help. She won’t notice. But we will, and our transgender staff and customers will.”
Curation is the key. Independent bookstores are curators of literature. They are not libraries. If libraries were to remove Rowling’s books, that would certainly be considered censorship. Which brings me to a parallel point that I made in my last blog post (re: removing pandemic conspiracy videos from social media platforms): censorship is most threatening when government entities take part in the removal of material and content. According to ALA,
“Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove information they judge inappropriate or dangerous from public access, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it.”
When a school district or public college removes a book from the curriculum, even if that book is available elsewhere, it is censorship. When a library chooses not to purchase a book because of its content, regardless of the reason, it is censorship. But, when an independent bookstore decides not to showcase an author’s books, it is not a form of censorship. A customer can simply go to the library or another bookstore to obtain the information they need. As long as access is not unilaterally restricted, I would argue that it doesn’t rise to the level of censorship.
No one can own the fandom that erupted from the Harry Potter stories. These tales may belong to J.K. Rowling, but the world that fans have created surrounding them do not and many who reject her exclusionary ideas on gender continue to create a space without her. They have separated the wizarding world of Harry Potter from the reality of J.K. Rowling’s reductive thoughts and ideas.
Jacqui Higgins-Dailey has been a public librarian for 10 years and has been an adjunct faculty librarian for the last two. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and a masters in library science. She currently selects the children and teen materials as a collection development librarian for Phoenix Public Library. She loves to read, write, figure skate and travel.