I remember a time when I knew almost nothing about my favourite authors. I grew up in the 80s and 90s before the internet was a thing. What we had though was tabloid journalists and paparazzi eviscerated celebrity actors and the royal family, laying bare their personal lives for all to see in newspapers and glossy magazines. Yet, authors were seldom seen or heard beyond the occasional book tour, and the carefully constructed paragraphs under the ‘About the Author’ page in the back of the book.
Ah, ignorance is bliss!
Authors like Dan Brown, Stephen King, G.R.R. Martin and JK Rowling are household names, celebrities in the way once the preserve of rockstars and big budget action stars. With the attention, so too comes the supposed need to create and foster communities on social media — or at the very least be seen and present.
However, the same medium — social media — has utterly stripped away the author’s mystique and relative obscurity. Any romantic notion you have about the business and practice of writing is quickly dispelled when you peruse the #amwriting and #writerscommunity hashtags. There’s nothing magical about writing, least of all the writers, those of us who grind away smithing words into stories.
Of all social media platforms, text-oriented Twitter in particular is the favourite haunt of many a writer. Yet, it’s a platform filled with more minefields than a Cambodian jungle.
Case in point is JK Rowling. No ordinary case, I grant you given her success, but like many authors she uses Twitter to share news, interact with readers, and um...express views. I don't follow her on Twitter, but she often comes across my feed when people I follow retweet one of her digs against Trump or Britain’s Tory party. She’s expose strong feminist views — some would say moral posturing. Regardless, I’d pegged her as a champion of left-wing feminist ideals. That’s cool, or so I thought…
A couple of weeks ago that image went completely tits up, after Rowling tweeted her support for a controversial researcher who was sacked from her position for expressing transphobic views. In doing so, Rowling earned herself the hashtag TERF, which I discovered means ‘trans exclusionary radical feminist’. Here’s the tweet if you missed it.
Dress however you please.— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 19, 2019
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill
I’m not going to weigh into the debate — nor am I going to defend or condemn Rowling here or on Twitter. I’m unqualified to comment on the vastly complex mix of biology, psychology and culture that defines a person’s gender and identity. Yet, I acknowledge that for many, many people gender is not binary — not as a concept nor as lived experience. Trans people are some of most vulnerable groups within our society. Their lives are just as valid as mine or yours, and like any vulnerable group they deserve to live in peace and be respected and afforded human dignity.
Yet, my opinion doesn't matter. I’m just a random guy on the internet who writes a second-rate blog and third-rate fantasy stories. Maybe a hundred people will read this article, it’s not going to change lives and will quickly slide into my blog’s archive without much of a splash.
I like to think that Rowling’s opinions don’t matter. Other people’s heads are a poor place to hold your sense of worth and happiness. I personally don’t give a toss what celebrities think. Just because someone can kick a football, act in a movie, or write a novel, does not automatically lend them moral authority or credibility when speaking on an issue.
Other people’s heads are a poor place to hold one’s sense of worth and happiness.
Yet, her reach means that her opinions when voiced do matter. Millions of people love her books and admire her as a writer. People seek validation and comfort in her stories — which themselves deal with issues of discrimination, persecution and social isolation. Now they must reconcile their love of the books with her alleged transphobia.
The response on social media from many has been one of anger and ultimately disappointment. Rowling’s veil and mystique as an author has been stripped away, and people don’t like what they see. Rightly or wrongly, people seek the moral truth of an artist in the art they create. When you realise their views don’t align with yours, it can be a tremendous letdown. A lot of people on Twitter are removing their Hogwarts houses from their profiles and vowing to dump her books from their shelves as an expression of solidarity with the trans community.
Is that okay? Is it throwing out a lot of babies with a lot of bath water? Is this what we do now on the Left? Fling hatred and scorn on those who don't toe the ideological line and the current zeitgeist. I certainly hope not, but that’s perhaps an article for another day.
As the father of three young kids, I’m not about to deny them the chance of reading Harry Potter or watching the movies as some on Twitter suggest. Love them or hate them, they’ve become as important to our culture as Star Wars and Mickey Mouse. Then again, I can separate the art from the artist, and that’s a more sensible way forward.
The sooner we stop putting celebrities and their opinions on a pedestal the better.
Rowling should have kept her opinions to her self, if for no other reason than forestalling the hurt she caused. But let’s not forget being an author and a celebrity doesn’t make her perfect, right, moral or authoritative. She’s just as capable as saying something dumb, ignorant or bigoted as the rest of us. The sooner we stop putting celebrities and their opinions on a pedestal the better.
Cover Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash