In June 2020, the OwlCrate book subscription box (and its kid’s version, OwlCrate Jr.) released a statement following JK Rowling’s public transphobic comments.
Given the recent hurtful comments from JK Rowling, we felt the need to spread the word about OwlCrate’s thoughts. First and foremost, we want our transgender community to know that we love you, we support you, and we want OwlCrate and OwlCrate Jr to be a welcoming place for you.
As of the end of August, OwlCrate Jr. will no longer have any licensed Harry Potter items in our boxes … After that, we have no plans for HP items for the rest of the year. We will donate monthly to The Trevor Project during the months of June, July and August. We also discuss how we can continuously support the transgender community.
OwlCrate, as the name suggests, was made within the Harry Potter fandom and always contains a lot of Harry Potter merchandise and merchandise. They kept their word, however, and over the past year they had loads of literal goodies and new titles in their boxes, but no HP merch.
It was a surprise when OwlCrate posted on Instagram on Aug. 10th that, despite taking a “break” from promoting Harry Potter, they had decided to put HP items back in their boxes.
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They explain that after much thought, they decided that they couldn’t leave the show behind: “I’ve spent the last year thinking about my own relationship with these books and this fandom and I finally decided it was too much part of it is letting go of me. “
Of course, that doesn’t mean there is a long, long road between “I decided to still enjoy this series despite the author” and “I chose to actively promote this author’s work,” especially when promoting Harry Potter leads JK Rowling to make more money with it.
Rowling’s transphobia is inseparable from her work. It is precisely because of the social capital of Harry Potter and Rowling’s large platform that her comments are so dangerous. The same month Rowling went public with her transphobia, a Republican lawmaker cited her as a reason for blocking an LGBTQ bill. Her inflammatory speeches against trans people, especially in the UK, have enabled more transphobic commentary on the internet and offline.
OwlCrate’s decision builds JK Rowling’s credibility and audience by promoting their work. Part of the top comment on the Instagram post, at the time of writing, is, “If you can’t get HP out of your life personally, that’s fine, but do it in private where things don’t directly affect us the queer and trans ARE. For us you are saying that you put HP and JKR above any queer and / or transgender person. And that’s just not okay with me. ”
The same comment expresses that they have their own personal bond with Harry Potter, including the fact that the books helped them realize their own weirdness. As someone who was very active in fandom when the books came out – I went to two different conventions years later and made a lot of friends through fandom – I agree with this feeling. I discovered that I was queer through Harry Potter fanfiction, so I started dating my first girlfriend. I found (my corner) of fandom to be incredibly queer-accepting – one of the most queer-friendly spaces I’ve ever been to.
But that is exactly why JK Rowling’s transphobia is so hurtful. While the fans were building an accepting, progressive space together, we found that the foundation was rotting. While the series has always had flaws – including its fat phobia, overwhelming whiteness and racism, and anti-Semitism – the author’s decision to use its platform primarily to compromise one of society’s most vulnerable groups lies on another level. It’s purposeful and conscious.
Other comments on Instagram and Twitter responding to OwlCrate’s statement reflect that disappointment, with many people saying they will be canceling their subscription.
The truth is, whatever positive associations we’ve had with Harry Potter as readers, its connotations have changed. Once synonymous with book lovers and childhood, it has become a dog whistle for transphobia. Harry Potter mentions in Twitter bios or a Gryffindor flag hanging on the wall now signal that this room is not trans-friendly regardless of intent.
Fans and former fans can mourn this, but that doesn’t change that. Regardless of the rationale, the inclusion of Harry Potter merchandise in a subscription box is a signal that fandom is more important than actual transsexuals. I can only hope OwlCrate will reverse its reverse.