It was only recently that J.K. Rowling released The Ickabog, a new fairy tale from the Harry Potter author which came with an accompanying illustration competition for kids.
Some of that art has been shared by Rowling on her Twitter, on a feed which saw her hit the headlines this past weekend for comments regarding trans identity.
That the author is placing children's art side-by-side with social commentary is enough of a head-scratcher to begin with, no matter how much of a political subtext may lurk within her works. But considering the disappointment felt by the trans community due to these and past statements, it makes you wonder the effect on a young Ickabog reader should they come upon her Twitter. Many Harry Potter fans grew up earlier this century on a message of love and diversity reading her books, a far cry from any 2010s kids unlucky enough to grow up with the execrable Fantastic Beasts series.
While acting talent from both the Potter and Beasts films have stepped up to decry Rowling's words in support of the trans community, there has also been push back from trans Potterheads and allies. Out of this has come the wonderful Trans-Affirming Magical Care, a Harry Potter fanzine that sees cartoonists, digital artists and writers talk about the trans experience through their relationship with the world of Hogwarts.
In other words, it's full of the kind of art you won't see on Rowling's Twitter feed.
We've spoken to some of the illustrators involved to learn more about the zine and its message, and their thoughts and feelings on Rowling and whether there is space for dialogue with her. Call it a roar using the Sonourous charm, if you wish; know that you can download the roar of the zine itself from here. Profits from sales will go towards UK charity Gendered Intelligence in support of their youth group COLOURS.
"I discovered Harry Potter as teen in the late 90’s and fell in love with the world and the characters," says zine editor Alex L Combs, a San Fran-based illustrator and cartoonist. "I became re-engaged with the fandom near the end of last year when J.K. Rowling shared support for an anti-trans activist. It made me think about the series again which led me to a desire to create fan art.
"The world of Harry Potter has always been fun to play with in my imagination, and I think fans from all backgrounds can relate to that. Drawing fanart for the books was one thing that pushed me to strive to be a better artist. When I first met my boyfriend Andrew (who is in my comic in the zine, below) we would spend hours together drawing and geeking out over the fandom.
"Overall I would say that participating in the fandom has inspired me, even more so than the books themselves, (and) other fans also seemed hungry to see depictions of the Harry Potter world as one of diversity in love, expression, and identity. I got the idea for Trans-Affirming Magical Care because I think I wanted to respond to that desire I perceived in the fans as well as myself.
Alex's choice of Gendered Intelligence as charity was down to wanting to share profits from the zine to a group working for trans youth in the UK.
"COLOURS is their youth group for trans kids of colour led by trans adults of colour. Now as much as ever there is a need to acknowledge and respond to the multiple intersections of oppression that specifically Black trans youth experience. They deserve to have their unique needs addressed, ideally through the support of Black trans leadership."
This reminds me how ill-timed J.K.'s comments were, being tweeted just as many were taking to the streets in support of racial equality. Many saw it as the antithesis to universal equality, singling out a group Rowling was already known for upsetting.
"Unfortunately there’s a lot of misinformation about trans people out there and I think she has gotten a bit caught up in it," Alex says when I ask why he thinks Rowling has taken up this case. "We are all brought up in a deeply transphobic society and we have been absorbing messages that demonise transness our whole lives. That’s why fans, especially marginalised fans, end up creating fan-works in order to see positive representation."
But Alex also recognises Rowling needs "to have her space right now as it seems like she’s feeling attacked," in light of her statement yesterday regarding her outspoken views on sex and gender issues.
"If she ever is able to feel more open I hope she might see the beautiful possibilities that we, her trans fans, have seen in her work. But, I definitely didn’t make the zine with her in mind; it’s for the fans."
One of those fans is Maria, also known as Harry Potter fan artist UpTheHill. Over the years, Maria has drawn multiple HP characters as transgender, finding "different sources of inspiration for each of these trans interpretations."
"As a cis-gendered woman who was raised in a conservatively gendered-environment, the subject of trans identity and experiences is still relatively new to me and I have a lot to learn to be a better ally. One of the ways I enjoy exploring the subject is through a fictional lens, one where anything is possible.
"I am very invested in the Harry Potter universe and characters, I love delving into different alternative interpretations and narratives, so imagining some characters as transgender encourages me to continue learning more about trans identity in real life.
"It also allows me to feel more personally connected to trans-oriented narratives, since I don’t really know anyone transgender where I come from."
Maria's open-mindedness and curiosity could be seen as the opposite to Rowling's mindset, and I ask Maria why she thinks the author holds the views that she does, and whether the fanzine can change her views should a copy magically appear on her writing desk.
"This is purely just my subjective opinion, but I think that JK Rowling and other feminists who invalidate trans identities feel threatened by the idea that sex and gender are different and that there is no single right way to be a woman (or a man).
"Even what could seem to be the most biologically 'female' experiences, like childbirth, are not universally experienced among women across the world. Trans rights do not infringe upon women’s rights, but some believe otherwise, and that’s terribly disheartening.
"I am uncertain whether JK Rowling could change her mind if she saw the zine and witnessed the powerful presence of trans fans in the Harry Potter community; however, I would hope that it could allow her to understand the importance of trans-inclusive media and politics a little better."
Reading Trans-Affirming Magical Care is a great way to understand how trans fans relate to Rowling's texts, offering different readings and interpretations that may be missed in a casual read. Among looks at the mother-ness of Hagrid and the identity explorations offered by Halloween and Cosplay costumes, we also appreciate the shape-shifting powers of character Nymphadora Tonks and the body discussions they open up.
This is seen in Tonk's Tale, a short comic created for the zine by Maia Kobabe, a nonbinary, queer author and illustrator from California. A lifelong Harry Potter fan, eir first full length book, Gender Queer: A Memoir, was published in 2019 and has just released its fourth printing and first foreign language translation into Spanish.
"I've always seen Tonks as one of the most interesting and undeveloped characters of the Harry Potter world," e tells me. "She was born with an ability to shape shift from birth, but in the text we only ever see her using this ability to disguise herself for Auror work, or to amuse people as a kind of party trick.
"(In Tonk's Tale) I wanted to think about what this ability might have really meant to Tonks. What is a person's relation to gender when you can change any part of your body at any time? Would Tonks choose to avoid having periods by transforming her reproductive organs during certain weeks of the month? How would this ability change Tonk's understanding of their own gender and sexuality?
"I think all of us, especially as teenagers, go through phases of feeling trapped in our own skin. I'm nonbinary, and I know I wondered what it would be like to have been born in a different kind of body. But Tonks wouldn't have to wonder: they could try being taller, shorter, masculine, feminine, intersex, or appear older or younger at any time. Would this power increase Tonk's empathy with people of different backgrounds and abilities?
"I only had six pages to explore this concept in the zine, but I wanted to touch on the idea of Tonks living in a space between genders, and the Hogwarts castle magically recognising that truth and making space for them."
But would having Tonk's power allow Rowling to experience empathy, making space herself for trans fans offended by her public views?
"I don't know why JKR has taken the stance she has around Trans people," Maia responds, "but my assumption is that it's because she doesn't know any of us personally, and has never taken the time to sit down and really compassionately listen to a Trans person's experience.
"Unfortunately I don't think that reading a copy of the zine would change her mind; her recent tweets are the continuation of a pattern of behaviour we have seen from her for several years. Back in 2016, she released a series of short stories on the Pottermore website titled 'Magic in North America'. These stories display an extreme ignorance of American history, culture, and geography, but the worst parts are the casual misuse of indigenous beliefs and stories.
"Fans and critics immediately spoke up against this appropriation, many asking her to remove the stories, or to hire indigenous editors and consultants to make the stories less harmful. Instead of listening to these comments, JKR blocked those calling her out on Twitter. She has never apologised for this incident. In late 2017, JKR publicly liked a transphobic tweet for the first time. Again, she was called out by fans. Her publicist claimed that it was a mistake, but clearly it wasn't.
"In mid-2019, I wrote a whole zine about these incidents which you can read for free on my website. I don't want to say it's too late for JKR, because I believe everyone has the ability to change and grow. But it requires a real strength of character to admit that you are wrong, that you have hurt people with your words and actions, to sit with that knowledge and commit to doing better in the future."