Perverse polyjuice: Trans Harry Potter spitefic as a response to J. K. Rowling's TERF wars

Ben Cromwell

Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio, United States

[0.1] Abstract—In the years since Rowling's controversial anti-trans tweets and statements, both the creation and consumption of trans Harry Potter fan fiction has exploded, ironically leading to more trans representation within the Harry Potter fandom than ever before. This paper examines features of trans Harry Potter fan fiction and how it has developed since the "TERF Wars" publication. It concludes that writing and reading trans Harry Potter fan fiction is a more meaningful and authentic form of protest than abandoning the fandom altogether.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan fiction; Fandom

Cromwell, Ben. 2023. "Perverse Polyjuice: Trans Harry Potter Spitefic as a Response to J. K. Rowling's TERF Wars." In "Trans Fandom," edited by Jennifer Duggan and Angie Fazekas, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 39.

1. Introduction

[1.1] "This isn't an easy piece to write, for reasons that will shortly become clear, but I know it's time to explain myself on an issue surrounded by toxicity. I write this without any desire to add to that toxicity" (Rowling 2020).

[1.2] When J. K. Rowling posted these words to her website on June 10, 2020, there were just over a hundred stories with the tag "Trans Harry Potter" on Archive of Our Own (AO3) dating back to 2015. At the time of this writing, that number has ballooned to 468 stories. Other fan fiction websites have seen similar explosions in trans Harry Potter content over that time period.

[1.3] Rowling's desire not to "add to that toxicity" notwithstanding, the celebrated author did say a number of offensive and toxic things in her post. Critics have called her a TERF, short for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, to which she objects, stating "accusations of TERFery have been sufficient to intimidate many people, institutions and organizations I once admired, who're cowering before the tactics of the playground. […] Speaking as a biological woman, a lot of people in positions of power need to grow a pair" (Rowling 2020). This is a response so mired in gender stereotypes that it boggles the mind.

[1.4] The obvious question after Rowling's comments is whether it is possible to remain a Harry Potter fan when the creator of the fandom is so openly transphobic; while many have abandoned the Potterverse, fan fiction writers are answering this question with an outpouring of new fiction that's both fascinating and paradoxical.

2. Backlash

[2.1] Fan fiction is queer-friendly space, and because of this it's no surprise that trans people have found sympathy, understanding, and belonging within the fan fiction community. Rather more surprising has been the swift, pervasive, and sometimes savage backlash enacted against J. K. Rowling since her anti-trans comments. According to the website, spitefic, a subgenre of fanfic, is written by authors "motivated by spite. Often the fic writer dislikes the original canon" ( While spitefic has existed within fan fiction for a long time, fans turning on a particular author is rare.

[2.2] Stephenie Meyer, for instance, the much-maligned author of the Twilight saga, is mentioned on AO3 in only twenty-two tags, some of which express positive feelings about her. Examples include "thanks Stephanie Meyer" and "aka me just thinking I am a sort of Stephanie Meyer." She does have negative tags about her as well, including "Fuck Stephenie Meyer" and "Stephenie Meyer is a bad writer." However, many of these tags refer to only a few fan-created stories, while the highest total of tags mentioning the author, "twilight stephenie meyer," a neutral tag, is applied to only ten stories.

[2.3] By contrast, J. K. Rowling's name is mentioned in 305 unique tags on AO3, and while many of them only refer to one work, the tag "Fuck JK Rowling" refers to 119 stories, and most of the tags can be classified as negative, with some being fairly explicit such as, "JK Rowling Can Suck My Trans (I wish I had One) Dick" and "JK rowling can eat my whole ass I'm taking her characters and making them gay and trans."

[2.4] The level of animosity directed toward Rowling in AO3's tagging system alone is eye-opening and unprecedented, but reading the descriptions of these stories makes clear that some writers are including spiteful tags on stories that aren't even about trans characters and, in some cases, aren't even part of the Harry Potter fandom. For instance, the story "got me trippin' like (wow)" by komorebinnie uses the hashtag "Fuck JK Rowling" but is about the band Stray Kids. Tagging J. K. Rowling has become a way to show support for trans authors and to signal to the fan fiction community that an author is united against Rowling.

[2.5] On the other hand, authors who are creating work with trans characters set in the Harry Potter universe rarely mention J. K. Rowling outside of their tags and comments. Most trans Harry Potter stories aren't filled with angry tirades directed at Rowling but instead deal with themes of acceptance, kindness, comfort, and friendship. The scope of this paper is too small for an in-depth content analysis, but I will highlight a couple of stories that seem emblematic of the trans Harry Potter subgenre.

3. Methods

[3.1] I selected these two trans Harry Potter stories because each represents a unique aspect of trans Harry Potter fan fiction. First, I selected "Stairs" because its main character is nonbinary and also because it's a good example of the hurt/comfort dynamics of fan fiction, where one character suffers an injury and another character comforts them. In this case, the injury is an emotional one. Hurt/comfort is an important trope to consider because a lot of the work trans Harry Potter stories are doing is to provide comfort in the wake of Rowling's damaging comments.

[3.2] The second story, Kaleidoscopic Grangers, provides a look at intersectional trans fan fiction as well as the idea of authenticity in fan fiction. This issue also speaks to Rowling's comments and her misunderstanding of the trans community.

[3.3] Additionally, while fan fiction writers are doing excellent work on many platforms, I decided to focus on stories hosted on AO3 because it has excellent, easily accessible metadata, which allows authors to use creative, freeform tags that users can then search, and also allows readers to freely interact with authors. I reached out to the authors of several other stories for permission to use their work. Some did not reply, and a few ultimately decided not to give consent for their work to be used for this article. One such writer I reached out to noted that while they believed my intentions were good, they did not wish to risk their work being misinterpreted or misunderstood. Such reluctance is understandable. For this article, I analyze only stories from writers whose consent has been obtained.

4. "Stairs"

[4.1] In the unfinished story "Stairs" by user bloodsuckingfreaks, Jasmine Lily Potter, a version of Harry, tries to climb the stairs to the girl's dormitory on their first day of school, but the stairs transform into a slide. A distraught Jasmine visits Professor McGonagall's office and learns that they are gender neutral and that there is a secret, third dormitory for nonbinary students. One of the important patterns this story exposes is the strict gender binaries within the Harry Potter universe. Within Hogwarts, there are several systems that operate under binary assumptions. In addition to the stairs in the girl's dormitories that have been enchanted to keep out male intruders, there are unicorn foals who only allow girls to approach, gendered Patronuses (magical protectors) that may change to indicate romantic relationships, and Veela, whose powers affect only men. Many writers of fan fiction have used these highly gendered features to explore nonbinary, queer, and trans identities just as bloodsuckingfreaks does. The question "Stairs" asks is not simply what would happen if a female presenting student was rejected from the girl's dormitory but how the wizarding world would accept and comfort such a student.

[4.2] When Jasmine meets with their head of house shortly after their trauma on the stairs, Professor McGonagall confesses, "It's really quite common being mixed up. In fact, I was also mixed up at first." McGonagall goes on to note that every house at Hogwarts has a third dormitory, and that there is at least one other student in Jasmine's year who has also been placed in such a dorm. The chapter ends with Jasmine tucked into bed in the secret dormitory, "pulling the thickest blanket they've ever used up to their chin" (bloodsuckingfreaks 2020).

[4.3] Far from the seething anger of the anti-Rowling tags users have adopted, this story and hundreds of others like it are invested in creating safe, comforting spaces for trans and nonbinary readers and writers. Jennifer Duggan and others have noted that Rowling's "sly silences" leave room in the original seven Harry Potter books for characters to be read as queer; however, within those books, there are no explicitly out, gay, trans, nonbinary, or genderqueer characters to speak of. Trans Harry Potter fan fiction, on the other hand, seems almost singularly concerned with carving out explicit trans-positive space where none previously existed (Duggan 2022). Writing about WLW (women loving women) fan fiction, Anna Llewellyn notes, "communities online are crucial for affirmative support, and fanfictions are places where queerness is normalized" (Llewellyn 2022). The explosion of trans Harry Potter fan fiction since Rowling's comments suggests that the same is true for trans and nonbinary fans. The fan fiction community is both affirming and normalizing trans and nonbinary stories as a form of protest.

5. Kaleidoscopic Grangers

[5.1] Another story, Kaleidoscopic Grangers by AdmiralPegasus, deals with Ariadne Granger, a version of Harry who's been adopted by Hermione's family. The scope of this work is monumental, accounting for all of the events in all of the canonical Harry Potter books and running to 1,527,568 words, almost a half million words longer than the original series (AdmiralPegasus 2020).

[5.2] Central to the plot of this story is Ariadne's transition, which occurs midway through her second year at Hogwarts. While a magical solution to transitioning would be expedient, the author dismisses both transfiguration and polyjuice, a potion used to take on the physical attributes of another person, as temporary. "Transfigurations like that do not take permanently and would inevitably revert," notes Madam Pomfrey, the equivalent of the school doctor (AdmiralPegasus 2020). AdmiralPegasus's rejection of a magical solution for Ariadne's transition seems like an odd choice. After all, there are myriad ways to swap genders in the Potterverse: Polyjuice, transfiguration, and metamorphmagi—witches and wizards who can manipulate their physical characteristics at will—are all means to alter characters' appearances throughout the series. In one instance, Fleur Delacour, a young witch who is friends with Harry, even transforms into a version of Harry, as does Hermione, both with the aid of polyjuice. In Kaleidoscopic Grangers, however, Madam Pomfrey prescribes a testosterone blocking potion and an estrogen potion instead. While a magical solution would have solved Ariadne's gender dysphoria, it would also have fundamentally changed her identity from that of a trans woman to that of a cis woman. Much of the trans Harry Potter fan fiction on AO3 is focused on gender identity and the idea that a character is experiencing gender dysphoria and issues of belonging that come with that experience. Characters in these stories often transition through magical means, and while they still face issues of discrimination, such as deadnaming and abandonment by friends and family, they largely skip over the experiences of the trans community during and after transition. Issues like passing, hormone therapy and its side effects, and the complexities of surgery are largely absent from stories where magical solutions are used for transition. The brilliance of Kaleidoscopic Grangers is that it doesn't skip over any of these issues and therefore creates an authentic space for trans people to see their whole identities within the wizarding world.

[5.3] When Madam Pomfrey discusses transitioning with Ariadne, she does so matter-of-factly, taking Ariadne seriously and at her word. There are consent forms for her adoptive parents to sign, and she talks about the various stages involved in administering hormone blockers and then estrogen therapy. AdmiralPegasus's deft handling of the scene provides frank support to readers whose real-life experiences with the medical establishment may not always be as positive as Ariadne's. The message is that even if others don't take such readers seriously, the author does. In the face of Rowling's comments misgendering trans women, the message is particularly poignant: while the creator of this universe is busy othering trans fans, we, as fan fiction writers, have the power to take care of each other and create narratives where there is space for everyone.

[5.4] AdmiralPegasus also deals with issues of intersectionality. In addition to being trans, Ariadne is also blind. She carries a cane, and Madame Pomfrey explains patiently that no magical cure is available for her blindness. Her disability doesn't stop her from doing anything, though, and she's a successful member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, just as Harry is canonically. While there are no quick fixes for her disability, Ariadne is gifted with magical senses, so she can sense other wizards, the magical balls in Quidditch, and even parts of the castle where magic is strong. This set of augmented senses brings to mind other blind fictional characters, like Marvel's Matt Murdock (Daredevil), who can hear so well that his blindness is rendered moot. Some critics, such as José Alaniz (2014), have referred to this trend among disabled characters as the supercrip trope, and such criticism should not be taken lightly. As opposed to AdmiralPegasus's handling of trans identity, Ariadne's super senses could be seen as undermining an authentic portrayal of her disability. On that issue, AdmiralPegasus notes, "Essentially, throughout KG (Kaleidoscopic Grangers), I've tried to ensure that while Ariadne has an advantage in her magical sense it's never a true replacement for sight" (AdmiralPegasus, personal communication, 2022). In the story, Ariadne and her friends spend a lot of time creating disability aids for her, and while her augmented senses and the aids allow her to "see" some things, the fact that the author has spent considerable time thinking through these issues and writing scenes where the characters address her disability brings a level of authenticity to the story.

[5.5] In a note on Kaleidoscopic Grangers, AdmiralPegasus describes the story as "Blind trans girl Harry Potter fic to spite JK Rowling's TERF ass." However, the story itself reads as a love letter to trans and disabled fans who always wanted to see themselves represented in the magical world of the Potterverse. No matter how motivated the author is by spite, they are clearly much more motivated by love and respect.

[5.6] In the afterword to the story, AdmiralPegasus says this:

[5.7] All in all, Kaleidoscopic Grangers isn't perfect. But I am proud of it. If you lot say it's good, then to hell with my self-worth issues, it's good. I'd like to think it's better than Harry Potter. And that here we are, 375 chapters on, 2 years later, is astounding to me. To all those who've read this thing and loved it, I thank you. I just slapped it up on AO3, and I never in my wildest dreams expected it to get popular, let alone have been opened two hundred and fifty thousand times, get bookmarked by five hundred and fifty people, and kudos'd by three thousand people, before I even finished it. If you had told me that two years ago, I would have thought you were pulling my leg. To everyone who has stuck with me for this story, thank you. Thank you so much.

[5.8] And so, to spiting TERFs, calling out bullshit in writing, and writing our stories better, queerer, and with more representation, I toast. This has been a wonderful journey. (AdmiralPegasus 2020)

[5.9] While current and former fans of Rowling's writing debate the merits of boycotting everything to do with the wizarding world, fan fiction writers are constructing inclusive stories full of acceptance and comfort where all of us can take refuge from Rowling's toxicity. It is both a more authentic and more powerful form of protest than mere boycotts, and their work deserves our attention. From AdmiralPegasus's stats, it seems this work is getting substantial attention, too!

6. Conclusion

[6.1] Finally, there is one piece I found that holds a special place in my heart. "Harry Potter Says Trans Rights" is a story on Wattpad by joju997 (2021). With the author's permission, I reproduce it here in its entirety. It's subtitled, "The Whole Thing."

[6.2] "Trans rights!" Harry Potter shouted.

[6.3]"Hell yeah!" Hermione agreed.

[6.4]"Of course!" Ron said. "We believe that everyone's rights matter here."

[6.5]"And by the way, this is canon," Harry said. "We canonically support trans people."

[6.6] Reading and supporting trans Harry Potter fan fiction is a way for all of us to do the same.

7. References

AdmiralPegasus. 2020. Kaleidoscopic Grangers. Archive of Our Own. August 6, 2020.

Bloodsuckingfreaks. 2020. "Stairs." Archive of Our Own. November 13, 2020.

Duggan, Jennifer. 2022. "Transformative Readings: Harry Potter Fan Fiction, Trans/Queer Reader Response, and J. K. Rowling." Children's Literature in Education 53 (2): 147–68.

Joju997. 2021. "Harry Potter Says Trans Rights: The Entire Thing." Wattpad. December 13, 2021.

José, Alaniz. 2014. "Supercrip: Disability, Visuality, and the Silver Age Superhero." In Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond, 26–68. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

Llewellyn, Anna. 2022. "'A Space Where Queer Is Normalized': The Online World and Fanfictions as Heterotopias for WLW." Journal of Homosexuality 69 (13): 2348–69.

Rowling, J. K. 2020. "J. K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues." J. K. Rowling blog. June 10, 2020.