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If I Let My Kid Dress Up as Harry Potter, Am I Contributing to Transphobia?

Killjoy, Halloween hater, PC police, Karen — I’ve been called much worse than that for the stories I’ve written over the years about why certain Halloween costumes are tasteless and hurtful to people. My rule has always been, if a marginalized group or someone in that group says a thing is offensive to them, take them at their word and don’t wear it. The “let kids be kids” argument doesn’t fly with me, because on the other end of that is a kid who will be hurt. Imagine, then, if I wound up going against everything I’ve been saying and allowed my son to dress as Harry Potter this Halloween?

It all begins with this confession I have to make: Reading Harry Potter books has been one of the bright spots of 2020 for my family, even after J.K. Rowling revealed her true transphobic ways over and over. This is my failing. I had never read the books before, but have held onto a set that the publisher gave to me many years ago, saving them for when my son was old enough to handle the scary parts. That time came this spring, when my husband, my 7-year-old, and I had literally nothing else to do but to read aloud together.

We had just started book one when Rowling tweeted a sharp criticism of a campaign that used the inclusive phrase “people who menstruate.” When people called this transphobic, she became more defensive and also more transphobic, with tweets and finally an essay claiming that by promoting trans rights we somehow erase women’s rights.

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‼️ AN UPDATED VERSION IS AVAILABLE. Because unfortunately this one is already out of date. JKR Cancel* Guide 3.0 ⁣ *see our “goals for JKR” post for an exploration of cancelling! ⁣ We are not separating the art from the artist, we are holding the artist accountable while giving ourselves permission to keep loving something she made. JKR wrote Harry Potter, and we can’t pretend she didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t love these books that meant and continue to mean so much to so many of us! It does mean that we need to do so with intention and integrity, however, and that’s what this guide is here to help with. ⁣ ⁣ Love to all of you from your favorite queer/trans HP podcasters. We see you, we love you, we’ve got your back. ⁣ -Lark and Jessie⁣ If you repost or use this content in your own post credit us clearly on the slides and tag us on the slides, as well as the caption. ⁣image description in alt text, dm and we will send to you (it’s too long for the ig caption limits) #MakeHarryPotterEvenGayer2020 #HarryPotterButMakeItQueer #ripJKRowling #TheGaylyProphet

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What’s worse, her latest Robert Galbraith novel, Trouble Blood, features a cis-male murderer who dresses in women’s clothing, in case you wondered how she really feels about transgender women. I don’t know how many people have been murdered by men in dresses, but here’s a more important number: At least 33 transgender and gender nonconforming people have been killed in the U.S. in 2020 so far, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“When the person who writes your favorite series of books about oppressed people decides to start oppressing you, it’s very strange,” Chaz Bono said on the podcast A Gay and a Nongay. “On a personal note, it just sucked. Politically, it’s dangerous because I don’t think people realize that she’s just regurgitating the same things that people are saying about us, that have been debunked for 30 years. It’s just wrapped up in a new package with a zillion Twitter followers.”

I have never been one to love the art and not the artist — there’s no listening to Kanye West or Michael Jackson near me. But my son, husband, and I were immersed in this world already. We would look forward to it all day. Harry’s first year at Hogwarts marked time’s passage when every one of our days in lockdown felt the same.

Reading Harry Potter books has been one of the bright spots of 2020 for my family, even after J.K. Rowling revealed her true transphobic ways over and over.

I got the books for free, I rationalized. She’s not getting a dime from me. We’ll just keep this on the DL and not discuss it in public. And then, hoping to even the scales and appease my cringing soul, we made donations to Black and Latinx transgender musicians. I used this as an opportunity to talk to the kid about transphobia. He is already a child who plays with Barbies, shuns sports and trucks, and often, unprompted, explains to his friends that “there’s no such thing as boy stuff and girl stuff.” Also, we have a transgender family member, Steph, whom my son adores, so the topic is close to home and still terrible to think about for any of us.

“You agree that Steph is who he feels he is inside, right?” I said, clumsily. “Some people think that he shouldn’t be allowed to say so. J.K. Rowling is one of those people. We want to make sure that Steph and everyone else like him know that we support them.”

But then, like a generation before him, my son became a HUGE Potterhead. He wanted to read nothing else, talk of nothing else, draw and paint nothing else. He took Harry Potter-themed Outschool classes all summer. And his friends were right along with him, also having discovered it all during quarantine. We created a monster. And then with Halloween around the corner, we created a problem.

“I know you love Harry Potter, but you can’t dress as him for Halloween,” I told him. “It would hurt other people’s feelings.”

This time, my own husband called me a Karen. This even though he loves and admires Steph, his cousin’s fiancé. But he’s also very protective of our son, and doesn’t want me canceling his fun ever. How firmly do you stand on principle, even when the price is disappointing your child? Is it really that awful to dress up as a fictional character so popular as to basically have an existence separate from his creator?

His argument made me doubt myself, so I texted Steph before writing this essay. “How would it make you feel if we let our son wear this costume? Am I blowing up a silly problem, when there are bigger issues to tackle?”

In a characteristically selfless manner, Steph said this wasn’t for him to answer as a white trans man, because Rowling’s words do more harm to the trans women and nonbinary people of color who are targets of far more violence and hatred. So he asked Apollo Flowerchild, an indie-folk musician signed to Trans Trenderz, the music label that Steph manages.

They had a stinging response I rightly deserved.

“J.K. Rowling, in the spirit of Halloween, has dug herself quite a huge grave, to the point that any support of her work looks more like an apologist excuse rather than paying homage to a time where we all could enjoy Harry Potter without knowing how problematic she was,” Apollo told me via email. “Her vicious critique on the intentions of trans women and linear view of womanhood in general makes me worry about how parents who support her think about how much control they have over their children’s bodies and relationships to them. The environment children will grow up in ultimately becomes more dangerous for them if we support someone who believes that trans women are predisposed to preying on cis women and that trans men just think being a woman is gross or too difficult. No child should have to participate in anything even remotely connected to her.”

The environment children will grow up in ultimately becomes more dangerous for them if we support someone who believes that trans women are predisposed to preying on cis women and that trans men just think being a woman is gross or too difficult.

So, no, it appears I’m not overreacting by banning a Harry Potter Halloween costume, but I’m back to feeling like a giant hypocrite. I’m sorry, Apollo. I’m sorry, Steph. There will be mutiny in this house if we stop in the middle of book five. But when we are not reading, we are doing the work to make sure Rowling’s real world view has no place in our home. (Not to mention the fact that I can’t help calling out how often the books fat-shame characters and rebuke girls for being smart and bossy.)

If you’re interested in helping me counteract my misdeeds, go enjoy some of the (non-kid-friendly) music of Trans Trenderz, donate to the Human Rights Campaign, and be on the look out next month for a new kid-friendly track by Apollo Flowerchild.

And in case this was a cliff-hanger for you, the kid is excited to be dressing as the raccoon from Secret Pizza Party instead.

Please, parents, don’t even consider these offensive Halloween costumes for your kids.

Inappropriate Halloween Costumes

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